After nearly 40 years in the HVAC industry, including three decades spent teaching, Cleveland native Gary Ranallo joked that he’s only just getting started. Ranallo currently serves as an HVAC instructor for Remington College in Cleveland, where he’s helped grow the program since its inception three years ago.
But Ranallo, who was selected as The NEWS’ 2016 Best Instructor winner, nearly missed his calling.
“In college, I was majoring in business classes, but, at the time, I didn’t enjoy it,” he said. “Then a friend told me about this heating and air conditioning school.”
The school was the West Side Institute of Technology, and it was the staple school in Cleveland for decades, he explained. Ranallo’s father, who was in the construction business, encouraged his son to check out the school, too.
“The funny part about it was that when we got done with the tour, my father was so excited that he said, ‘We’re signing up.’”
“So, I said, ‘What? Who’s we?’ And, he said, ‘No, I meant you — you’re signing up.’ That was almost 40 years ago.”
TECH TO TEACHER
After Ranallo completed the two-year associate’s program, he landed a job with a contracting company that did mostly piping and boilers and a little bit of air conditioning.
After a couple of years there, Ranallo went to work for a larger contractor before taking a job in wholesale distribution, where he quickly picked up on different facets of the industry.
“Like most people, I started off at the counter, which gave me a new perspective on the business. I got to see contractors — big and small — from behind the scenes. In addition, it was a phenomenal education, learning the manufacturing and distribution processes of the business as well as all the pieces and parts.”
While Ranallo enjoyed the work, his passion lay elsewhere, and it was only a matter of time before he got his feet wet as an HVAC instructor.
“When I was a teenager, my father taught night school, and he’d take me with him. It planted a seed, I guess,” he said.
While still working in distribution, Ranallo taught night classes at a Cleveland-area school. Eventually, enrollment dwindled, and he was let go, which caused him to stop teaching for a period.
“Then, out of the blue, I decided it was time to start teaching again,” he said. “When I had left HVAC school, I told the owner I’d like to come back and teach there sometime, and he said, ‘When you’re ready, come and see me, and we’ll put you on staff.’
“Meanwhile, the owner passed away and his son took over. Around 12 years ago, the school was sold, and it still operates as a career college.”
So, Ranallo walked into the school where the late owner’s son from West Side Institute greeted him. “He’d just lost one of his key instructors and asked when I could start. A few weeks later, I was on staff. I taught there for a number of years until the stress of having two full-time jobs, for all intents and purposes, began to take a significant toll on me.”
When the workload became so heavy that other people began to notice its effects, Ranallo realized he needed to make a change.
“At that time, I was running the service department, running service calls, doing training at the company during the day, teaching HVAC classes at night, and teaching a class on Saturday mornings. It kind of got to be too much,” he said. “One day, I got out of the truck, and my boss came up to me and asked, ‘Are you alright?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, why?’ and he said, ‘Well, you look kind of tired — what do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘You know, I’m at the point in my life where I’d really like to pursue a full-time teaching career.’ And he said, ‘Well, then you should do it — I know you’ll be successful.’”
Ranallo soon found an ad in the paper for a full-time position at Remington College.
“When Remington first opened six months prior, I had sent a résumé in because they were looking for teachers, but they didn’t have any full-time openings. They told me to check back in a while. So I called them up again when I saw the ad. I introduced myself, and they said, ‘We’ve got your résumé right here — when can you come down?’ That was 2013, and I’ve been at Remington ever since.”
A WORK IN PROGRESS
When he began teaching at Remington, the program was still very much in its infancy. The labs in the department weren’t yet up to snuff, and enrollment was light.
“But, under the direction of Shaan Colyer [HVAC department chair], Remington, has gone from a very small starting project into one of the best-known schools in the Cleveland area,” Ranallo said. “Colyer’s goal is to be the modern West Side Institute of Technology, and, over the last few years, we’ve really developed a tremendous lab as far as skills projects. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting more contractors looking for our graduates than we can provide. It’s a great problem to have.”
Ranallo often gets to hand-pick positions for his students, which is a testament to the connections he’s built through years of working with dealers, wholesalers, and distributors in the Cleveland area.
“I like to work with contractors to not just place students, but place them with companies that offer them the best chance of obtaining long-term success,” he said. “It’s not a matter of just placing students.”
Rick Tompkins, who graduated from Ranallo’s program in February and currently works as a maintenance supervisor, said Ranallo is a true professional with firsthand knowledge of the industry who has the ability to teach to each student’s level.
“He’s a great instructor. He takes his job very seriously and very personally,” Tompkins said. “He’s invested in his students, and that’s what I like about him. If someone doesn’t know something, he goes over it again. If they still don’t get it, they get a one-on-one with him.”
Tompkins said Ranallo is also always willing to help former students any way he can. “You can call him when you run into a problem or something like that. That helps a lot when you’re trying to do this type of work. You may know something, but when in the field, you discover you don’t know it all, so you can pick up the phone and call him. He will usually be able to help you solve it over the phone.”
Colyer said Ranallo has been an invaluable addition to the school’s program.
“He takes all of our senior classes on service calls, and we are first responders to all HVAC issues on our three-building campus,” Colyer said. “He also guides students through various HVAC projects needed on campus, as well, which gives our students firsthand, real-world training in addition to training on our lab equipment and trainers. He also preps and proctors our seniors for EPA 608 certification, and most students come away universal [-certified] because of his guidance.
“Furthermore, Gary is tied tightly to our local HVAC community,” Colyer continued. “He helps with the selection process when it comes to placing students who will be a good fit with particular contractors and employers, which has proven very successful. Gary’s passion for HVAC, education, student success, and his fellow man is unmatched by anyone I have worked with in HVAC education.”
JUST GETTING STARTED
At 58 years old, Ranallo said he loves his job too much to even start thinking about retiring yet.
“There are so many different things that are great about my job,” he said. “I enjoy taking the information and presenting it in ways students can understand and finding different, creative ways to help each and every student learn the program — to me, that’s exciting. I’m constantly looking to improve myself, and find better ways to present the information. I also like seeing the students come through the school — and some come in at a very young age — walk out, get jobs, and become successful.”
The job isn’t all flowers and candy, however. “One of the most challenging parts is getting students who don’t necessarily know what they want, where they’re going, or what their goals are to buy into the program. They’re just there because their parents or spouses encouraged them to be there. It can be challenging to get students excited for what they can do in this vocation and how they can be successful, but it’s a challenge I enjoy,” he said.
Looking ahead, Ranallo said he hopes to work closely with the team and especially Colyer to help him reach his goals of making Remington the modern West Side Institute. “The goal is to grow, but not in the sense of growing for business reasons. We want to reach more people who could be successful but normally wouldn’t be. I’m also working to create an alumni association through the school to develop a network of past students in the field. This group could connect with current students who are getting ready to graduate. Together, they all can network with a goal to solidify the fellowship of all Remington students. That is currently going through legal.”
In the meantime, Ranallo said he plans to keep doing what he’s doing — helping students begin careers that will last a lifetime.
“My goal, personally, is to someday go part time,” he said, stressing that someday likely won’t be anytime soon. “I still want to be involved and contribute, but someday I envision possibly slowing down. But everything that I’ve done in my career has led up to this point and allowed me to be successful, and being successful means helping other people.”
Publication date: 9/26/2016