Longtime Frost Technical Center campus supervisor and dual credit welding instructor Natividad “Nat” Subia Armendarez is retiring and passing the torch to one of his former students.

A product of Ector County Independent School District’s welding program, Armendarez was motivated by J.D. Hanson, who got him involved at age 16 in Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, now called SkillsUSA.

“He invited me to join and I did. It changed my life,” Armendarez said.

Armendarez graduated from Ector High School, now Ector Middle School, and earned an associate degree in criminology from Odessa College and received a career and technical education certification from Wayland Baptist University.

Armendarez has been in education in various capacities for 35 years, 20 of which were with ECISD. Armendarez started at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and went to the Odessa College police academy in 1983. He was hired at UTPB in 1984 as a guard. They wanted to send him to another academy, but he didn’t want to go.

He was hired as a police officer at Odessa College and then became Wrangler Hall dorm director for 10 years. “All that time, I taught defensive driving. I taught a little bit of ESL (English as a second language) and I ended up teaching welding there for the college,” Armendarez recalled.

His high school instructor, J.D. Hanson, heard Armendarez was teaching welding at OC and called him to see if he would be interested in teaching at ECISD because Hanson was going to retire in the next year.

Armendarez said Hanson thought it would be a good idea for him to volunteer and see how he did things. Hanson retired in 1998 and Armendarez said he became a full-time substitute.

“I’ve been teaching 20 years and now I’m retiring. It’s been a wonderful journey. I’ll cherish the memories. I’ve been blessed with good students and working with excellent colleagues. It’s just been awesome. Now I’m looking to move on again. This was my wife’s and I plan to retire at age 55. We’re going to do that. We’re going to fulfill a goal that we set forth,” Armendarez said.

His students have been recognized statewide and nationally for their welding skills.

Armendarez also praised Executive Director of Career and Counseling Services Carla Byrne, praising her passion for career and technical education.

Byrne said Armendarez will be missed.

“His love for the students, for the profession and for this district and our community were his top priorities and it showed daily. Nat wanted everyone around him to know that he was supporting their efforts — his students, his colleagues, me,” Byrne said.

“And it wasn’t just words, but actions. I know he’ll be rooting for all of us in CTE from afar and that he’ll be involved in the Welding Advisory Board and many other career and tech endeavors and that gives me comfort. We wish him well on his retirement,” Byrne added.

Armendarez’ wife, Florinda, nicknamed Flo, is a teacher’s aide. The couple has two grown children, Jonathan, who is a chef, and Erica Naté who is a coach and inclusion teacher at Odessa High School.

He noted that he and his wife were high school sweethearts.

“Now we’re passing the torch on to one of my ex students, Zach,” he said.

Zachery Chavez will be the dual credit welding instructor starting in the fall. He worked with Armendarez this past school year.

Armendarez said he’s always told his students that the expertise he shares with them in the classroom is not theirs alone. It’s meant to be passed on to others.

“I’m hoping that I’ve impacted them in a positive way and that they’re sharing their knowledge and it keeps going. Knowledge is a gift that keeps on giving. One of my main objectives was to help these kids seek the possibilities in life and help them become good neighbors in our communities,” he said.

Major success with the students state and nationally did well in representing district and city in SkillsUSA.

Chavez, who started teaching in August 2017, said he cannot replace Armendarez and has a long list of questions that he will be asking his mentor well into his retirement.

“… Every good memory I have out of high school is from this program. Mr. Armendarez was there for all of it. He inspired me. He motivated me. He was the first person to really challenge me to do more than just get by. He’s taught me most of what I know, not just for welding but just how to live as a good man, so I’m excited to take over and try and do my best to carry that torch now that he’s passing that on to me,” Chavez said.

Since the 2011-12 school year, Byrne said there has been a 93 percent increase in enrollment in career and technical education. In 2011-12, CTE enrollment was 3,565, and in 2017-18, it was 6,895.

Armendarez said students who go through the program can go into a variety of careers such as safety inspection, welding inspection, engineers, welding, some open their own businesses and some have gone into sales.

Chavez earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He has done mission work through Belmont Baptist Church since 2010, some of it local and some of it in Ukraine, where he has taught English as a second language.

He’s also worked with First Priority, a national student organization, to train students to have confidence to share their story and give them hope as they deal with the stresses of school and trying to figure out what life is about and their place in it.

Chavez said he plans to return to Ukraine, but it will probably be next summer because he plans to finish some certifications this summer.

Armendarez said Chavez feels much the same way about the welding program that he does.

“… He understands that it’s about helping our students become successful after graduation and productive members of society and I think it’s in good hands,” Armendarez said.

Armendarez added that it’s time for him to make a positive impact as a private citizen.

He said he will be advocating for the district to build a CTE center because the programs it provides are useful for the community and economy.

“It’s been an awesome journey, a wonderful journey. …,” Armendarez said. “I want to thank mom and dad, my brothers and sisters (and) the community because that’s what made me. …”