TUPELO • For years, the trophies that retired Tupelo automotive instructor Henry Cobb and his students won at competitions during his three-decade tenure were stored in a closet.
Cobb worried that enrollment and enthusiasm for technical programs had dwindled on return visits to the school years later and wondered if the program in Tupelo might eventually be cut like others across the state.
“(Technical programs are) important because people have placed academics and college degrees above the technical part of the world,” Cobb said. “And the technical part is what keeps the big wheel rolling – we do all of the fixing and the making and the designing.”
He decided the school needed a trophy case to display past awards and “serve as a motivational factor to help encourage other kids” to take classes at the technical center, so he went to work recruiting donors.
Those trophies and awards are now displayed prominently in a trophy case that was unveiled during a ribbon-cutting presentation at the Tupelo Career-Technical Center on Nov. 4.
The trophy case cost around $4,600 and was built by Pierce Cabinet thanks to donations from Cobb, Jim and Lisa Hawkins and five former students: Chris Gillard, Jay Hawkins, Mike Prust, Jay Robertson Jr., and Maurice Shumpert.
“It will be a focal point to hopefully encourage those students that are enrolled to want to compete with passion and want to be able to get something out of it that’s going to be beneficial to them going forward in their careers,” Tupelo Career-Technical Center director Evet Topp said.
The trophy case was dedicated in honor of Cobb and in memory of the late Jeff Robertson Sr., the former owner of Tom’s Automotive, for his support and commitment to vocational education.
Robertson Jr., current owner of Tom’s Automotive and a former student of Cobb’s, said students considered him to be more of a mentor than a teacher.
“He taught us how to politic, how to ask for donations, how to put in to be more than ourselves, how to see the big picture and get people together and moving in the right direction as a group for the better good of everybody,” Robertson said. “Auto mechanics was just kind of a byproduct.”
Cobb, 76, grew up in the Red Hill community in Lee County and still lives there today. He taught in Bruce, starting in 1967, and began teaching automotive classes in Tupelo 1984 where he stayed until 2002.
Cobb built the automotive program at Tupelo High from the ground up, joking that when he arrived “the program was dead!”
He said in the beginning there were about six to eight students per class and he grew that number to around 20 in each class, where he taught students from textbooks first and then took them to the auto shop, which he treated like a lab.
Cobb had gone to state automotive competitions with students since around 1973, but the first time they won was in 1993. He and his students won around five first place, four second place and four or five third place trophies during his time as an instructor, according to Cobb.
With so much success over the years, it’s easy to see why Cobb is still so passionate about the Career-Technical Center.
“That was my greatest ambition and desire, to help get those kids motivated so the technical center won’t die from the lack of having kids in those programs,” Cobb said
And Cobb’s work in the community is far from over.
For as long as Cobb is “able and around to work on different projects that’s going to benefit society,” he’ll continue working.
His next project will be rallying donors to help purchase and install storm shelters at the Red Hill Community Center.
“Everything to be done is going to be done from the people in the community and once you get that buy-in, that’s what makes you proud of what you’ve got,” Cobb said.
“That’s what it’s all about with me – when you’ve had a pretty good life and you’ve got health and strength and you’re blessed to have a nickel or dime or two. To me, it’s just being more community-minded.”