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Cleburne Career and Technical Education Presents Intern of Year Award in Memory of an Industry Partner


            Zane Thomas has been presented with the first Tony Spalding Intern of the Year Award, established by Cleburne High School Career and Technical Education in memory of an industry partner dedicated to providing students with internship opportunities.

            The CHS senior and three-year member of the Heavy Engine Diesel Technician program was honored in ceremonies held at Cleburne Holt Caterpillar, where Thomas has been an intern since January. The award he received is named for Anthony “Tony” Spalding, who was the Director of Apprenticeship Programs for Holt Caterpillar. Spalding passed away in November.

            “This award is pretty special, and Tony Spalding was a special guy,” Cleburne CTE Director Mark McClure said. “He had a heart of gold, most especially when it came to helping veterans and helping high school students transition into a career with Holt. You can’t talk about Holt Cat interns without mentioning his name.”

            The partnership between Cleburne CTE and Holt Caterpillar began in 2014, when the first CHS student was hired as an intern. From the start, Spalding was interested in Cleburne’s career education program and what it was doing for students in preparing them for the workplace.

            “Tony was a visionary and had the drive, determination and passion to make things happen,” McClure said. “From that first internship with our program has come years of success, as evidenced by our former students who are now technicians at Holt Cat. When he came to see our new CTE facilities, he brought up the idea for a heavy equipment program on our campus. He was instrumental in helping to bring the first Holt Cat-sponsored heavy equipment diesel technician program in the state to Cleburne High School.”

            “I could never repay Tony Spalding for all the great things he did for the young men and women that have been through this program,” McClure said. “I know he would be proud to see a Holt Cat intern the first to receive this award.”

            For Thomas, the recognition is both humbling and moving. He began working with tractor engines alongside his grandfather, Larry Ellis, which led to his participation in the diesel tech program at CHS.

            “This means so much to me,” Thomas said. “Getting to work at Holt Cat with all these guys is outstanding. It’s an honor, not to mention a great opportunity to work in this big shop with all this equipment. When I was one of those who interviewed to intern, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure I would get hired, and then I wondered how I would do at Holt Cat. It would be a big jump from our high school shop to this.”

            “My grandfather is the reason why I’m here,” Thomas said. “We lost him in February. I’ve always been interested in tractors and big engines because of him. Anytime I’m working on them, it takes me back to my times with him. I want to keep doing what I’m doing because this was something he did. Same with my love for tractor pulls.”

            Thomas is hopeful his internship will expand into full-time employment at Holt Cat once he graduates in May.

            “I definitely see this as my future,” he said. “I know this is where I want to be. In having a passion to work on diesel engines—this is it. It’s not easy work, but (CHS diesel tech instructor) Mr. Querry prepared me for a lot of this. We’ve also had the opportunity to be hands-on at school with engines and many of the tools we use here because of Holt Cat, which has donated them. That has really helped.”

            Holt Cat Technician and 2019 Cleburne graduate Luis Noriega has words of praise for the intern who has been looking over his shoulder—and vice versa—since Thomas came on board.

            “Zane was put with me when he came in as an intern,” Noriega said. “He has the mentality to always help others. I think he would be a great asset for us. Zane wants to learn—he’s like a sponge. He takes instruction—and correction. For me, he’s been a standout among those who have come through the intern program. I also think students at CHS should take advantage of CTE programs like this.”

            “I spend a lot of time on the road trying to find young people like Zane,” Holt Cat Workforce Development Liaison Rick Elmore said. “We hope he will be one of our longest-running technicians. Our hopes are that the interns who come to our program will turn into long-term employees.”

With several internships in place with local business and industry, coupled with ongoing efforts to provide more, McClure is proud to have an award honoring an outstanding intern--and the memory of an individual who believed in the importance of internships for high school students.

            “Having 17-year-old interns in a heavy industrial setting is not the norm,” McClure said. “But it works at Holt Cat. Their owners and managers were innovators and trailblazers within their industry when they started an internship program in 2012. Tony drew out an idea for a program on a napkin during a lunchtime meeting, developed it, then took it to management—who approved it.”

            “This award will continue to recognize one member annually from any of our intern programs,” McClure said. “It’s our way of honoring the memory of someone who changed the lives of countless students because of his vision for their future.”