You don’t always get a replay in life, but sometimes luck tilts in your favour.
Pinball wizard, carpenter and family guy Eric Swanson pursued two careers as a graduate of Red River College programs, and he enjoyed the college experience so much he embarked on a third career in 2014, returning to RRC as an instructor for the Carpenter Apprenticeship program.
Swanson, 36, graduated from the Hotel and Restaurant Management program in 1999, but when he and his wife Angela decided to start a family, he knew a career reset was in order. The hospitality industry’s late hours weren’t conducive to fatherhood, so he joined his dad Robert Swanson’s building company and headed back to RRC to earn his Red Seal certification as a carpenter.
“The instructors that I had when I came through my apprenticeship were the real inspiration for me wanting to do this as a career,” he says.
“I knew from Day 1 of my very first level that this was something I wanted to do. These guys are just so inspiring here, and they just make your day fun. When you come in, you’re learning but you want to be there. I rarely hear somebody say, ‘Let’s get the heck out of here.’ Everybody wants to be here.”
Swanson worked alongside his dad, who completed his apprenticeship with RRC in the late 1970s, during the four-year program, which brought him back to the College for eight weeks each year. When the opportunity to join the faculty arose, his father encouraged him to take the leap. Now, he’s thrilled to be working with the instructors who took him through his four levels of training: Scott Savoy, Jeff Martens, Rick Patapow, and Glenn Spurr.
“These were all guys that I really respected and what a weird feeling to now have them as colleagues. I still want to call them Mr. Patapow or Mr. Spurr,” he says. “They are the masters of their trade, and I get to be amongst their group now. It’s a pretty neat feeling.”
Swanson says he actually looks forward to Monday mornings and his life is in balance. He also looks forward to Fridays, when he gets together with fellow pinball hobbyists. And his growing family — he and Angela now have two daughters, Jillian, 6, and Amy, 4 — enjoys his hobby as well, which is lucky because he’s turned their basement into a veritable video arcade.
“I like the actual mechanical pinball game where the ball’s flying all over the place — that’s my passion,” he says.
Swanson skipped the recent The Who concert in Winnipeg — except for their song Pinball Wizard, he’s not a fan of the band. But he did attend the last Barenaked Ladies concert in Winnipeg, after singer-songwriter Ed Robertson hooked up with the local pinball community during the band’s Silverball tour. Robertson got them concert tickets and even gave them a shoutout during the show.
“We met up at my friend’s place. He’s (Robertson) got quite the collection, as well — we spent the entire Friday night playing pinball and it was a pretty amazing experience.”
Robertson isn’t the only celebrity Swanson has met through his pinball hobby, although he says they’re not household names to most people.
“Not really celebrities — it sounds kind of nerdy, but celebrities in the pinball world.”
Swanson repairs and restores pinball machines, and he plans to build one someday, but he expects that will be an after-hours project that will take a few years to complete.
In the meantime, he’s focusing on teaching Level 1 and Level 2 apprentices, who split their time between classroom instruction and practical shop exercises, and looking forward to expanding to Level 3 and beyond.
One unexpected benefit of joining the instructor staff came during his first year on the job at RRC, when he was required to take advanced first aid training. Just one week later, he was in Gimli when a man collapsed on the pier.
“My mind started racing — ‘Should I do anything?’ — because it had only been a week since I took the training,” he says.
“What made me decide to take some action is there were about four or five people around him and they were all not trained in first aid, so they were … doing all the wrong things that I’d just learned not to do. Putting him on his back, putting water in his mouth, and they thought they were helping but they were actually hurting the situation, so I just kind of took over the scene.”
Swanson sent someone to find an AED (automated external defibrillator), but fortunately, he didn’t have to use it. The man regained consciousness by the time paramedics arrived on the scene, and while it was a scary situation, it turned out well.
You could say the same of his entire RRC career. Swanson says aside from marrying Angela and having kids, signing on as an instructor is “the best move I made in my life.”
“I think I’m on the right path now. I just absolutely love it here at the College, and I really feel like I made the right move.”
Learn more abut RRC’s Carpenter Apprentice program.
— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)