Ken Walsh, Teacher, Navy Vet

On a tiny screen, dragsters rocket neck and neck while exuberant 6th graders cheer them to the finish. “I’m an educator,” says the amateur cinematographer proudly displaying his students’ annual race on his iPhone Touch.

Ken WalshNo larger than 1”x10”, the homemade cars are the ultimate test for comprehension in Ken Walsh’s Production Engineering class. These balsa 500s aren’t the only examples of practical application in the Navy vet’s life; Ken is a maker.

Ken retrieves his gadget, searches through photos then flips the screen back to reveal a snow-covered A-frame cabin he designed himself on Tabor Lake in Danbury Wisconsin.

He and his wife LuAnne visit their home-away-from-home most weekends throughout the summer. Elevated planter boxes adorn the front wall of the cabin at the perfect height for Ken to tend from his wheelchair.

The cabin on the lake is home to wild weekends of cards and beer with family and friends at “Deer Camp,” cooking, hunting and fishing. But Ken’s favorite escape is the workshop, “I’m a tinkerer.”

After a jeep accident in the Navy left him paralyzed, Ken hardly missed a beat. He started as a business major at St. Cloud University to follow his father’s footsteps but he took an engineering class and discovered his true passion: he graduated with a degree in Industrial Tech.

While in college, Ken designed a kayak transfer lift for himself and continues to couple personal projects with school to this day. Ken designs and fabricates during the school year so he can lead his students through the process.

“It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work the first time or the second or the 100th time,” he tells students.Teaching the real process with all its mistakes and iterations builds problem- solving and critical thinking skills.

Ken and StudentKen’s favorite part of teaching is that moment when the student suddenly gets it, “They’re working on something basic or elementary and you see the light bulb go on and they really push themselves and create something more inspired.”

Ken doesn't just teach engineering, shop and computers: he lives it. Ken designs everything from a wooden pen created on a lathe to his fishing rod holder which he uses to land dogfish. They aren’t good to eat but they’re good practice because they fight the whole way. “If I can land a dogfish then I can land anything,” Ken’s philosophy matches his nature.

Ken designed the holder when nothing on the market really worked, it holds just about everything: gardening equipment, golf clubs, fishing rod,” His eyes lose focus as his hands trace the holder, “I wonder if I could mount my lathe tools…”

Where the holder leaves off, the Dual Arm Mount'n Mover picks up. The wheelchair mount by BlueSky Designs currently holds his iPad and AirLiner Slate used for teaching. He has limited use of his fingers due to his C5/6 spinal cord injury, but he easily operates the AirLiner with the Mount’n Mover.

Ken acquired his MnM through his OT at the VA during an annual checkup. When he brought the idea up to his OT, she said “I’ll get you one.”

With use of the mount, Ken says he has become a better teacher. "It allows me to move around the classroom and still be in control of what’s up on the screen." Swinging the Mount'n Mover over to a student engages participation with ease. “If I’m on the white board they check out after two seconds. Moving around; I keep them engaged.”

He can move the arm to pre-programmed lock points for different activities. He can also remove and replace the entire mount arm as needed so it never hinders his daily routine in class or at home.

Beyond the classroom, Ken is designing a device to mount his rifle to the MM for increased stability and free range of motion for competition in the VA games and deer hunting. He bags at least one deer annually.

Ken’s philosophy is, “To experience all that I can and to that extent do what I need to so that I can experience all that there is.”

Ken WalshHe also took up Murderball. Officially known as Quad Rugby, the aggressive sport has inspired him to get in shape. He exercises 3 days a week so he can “get in the way.” Ken blocks for the Minnesota North Stars. He recently traveled to Detroit for Motorcity Mayhem, a regional pick-up tournament.

During his free time Ken attends the theater and travels. He and his wife are season ticket holders at the Ordway and Orpheum. According to Ken, “Fiddler on the Roof” with Topol was “incredible,” and “The Lion King” was also stunning. They also enjoy annual, winter visits to Florida and trips to Chicago and Hawaii.

On the 10 year anniversary of his accident Ken returned to the town. September 18th fell on a weekend. It seemed like the thing to do. To commemorate the occasion he took a ride in a glider. One price got you the basic ride and $30 more got you the acrobatic ride; he paid the extra 30.

"Excuses are easy," Ken says; his life to date proves he doesn't let them get in the way.


Ken Walsh