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America can learn a lesson from these retirees.

It has been more than 60 years since the last students graduated from the Henry Ford Trade School, and the school’s remaining alumni are now in their 80s and 90s. But we should all pay attention to what they have to say about the value of education.

These Trade School alumni can testify that a good educational foundation leads to rewarding careers and well-paying jobs that support thriving families. It’s the American dream, and these retirees have lived it.

Recently the Henry Ford Trade School Alumni Association donated $750,000 to create an endowed scholarship fund for undergraduate mechanical engineering students at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. They decided to pay it forward by creating opportunities for future generations of talented students, just as auto pioneer Henry Ford did for them so long ago.

The Henry Ford Trade School was established in 1916 as a nonprofit high school. Tuition was free, and the students also received stipends to attend. Ford provided modern shop equipment so the students could learn technical skills along with a regular high school curriculum.

Of course, altruism wasn’t Ford’s only motivation. The Trade School provided a pipeline of trained draftsmen and technicians that were needed at Ford Motor Company as manufacturing grew increasingly complex.

In 1952, the Henry Ford Trade School closed, in large part because vocational training had become part of the curriculum at many public high schools. By then there were more than 8,000 graduates, many of whom went on to careers at Ford Motor Company.

The Trade School was connected to Lawrence Technological University because its original building at 15100 Woodward Avenue on Ford Motor Company’s campus in Highland Park later became the first home of the university. Our founders sought to extend the Trade School’s theory-and-practice approach to improve higher education.

An even stronger bond was created by the many Henry Ford Trade School graduates who went on to earn engineering degrees at Lawrence Tech. One of those graduates, William D. Innes, advanced to executive vice president at Ford and led North American operations in the 1970s. Another was Lewis C. Veraldi, Ford’s vice president of product and manufacturing engineering who oversaw development of the Taurus, the best-selling car in the country for many years.

Veraldi and Innes both had a firm grasp of the technical aspects of manufacturing and an advanced knowledge of engineering. When government and civic leaders debate about the best way to rejuvenate American manufacturing, they should remember what worked well in the past and then update it for the 21st century.

That’s the message the Henry Ford Trade School Alumni Association has conveyed with its gift to future generations of students at Lawrence Tech.

“We will perpetuate and celebrate Henry Ford’s legacy in education and create new generations of highly skilled engineers who are so essential to sustaining American ingenuity and economic leadership,” said John J. Graf, president of the Henry Ford Trade School Alumni Association.

It’s one lesson from Henry Ford that will never become outdated.

Virinder Moudgil is president of Lawrence Technological University in Southfield.

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