Saskatchewan Polytechnic alumni give for specialized Auto Body training equipment
$60K donation made way for the purchase of the newest less intrusive dent repair equipment for modern automobiles.
Students in the Auto Body Technician certificate program are learning with the latest dent repair tools thanks to a donation from Sask Polytech alumni Barb and Tom Bissonnette. Their gift enabled the purchase of BETAG dent repair tools and software to teach students on the latest automotive panel repair techniques.
Tom Bissonnette, former owner of PARR Auto Body in Saskatoon and current executive director of the Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers (SAAR) says, “The goal is simple, to make Sask Polytech the number one collision repair training centre in Canada.” Tom adds, “The BETAG equipment is the way of the future for auto body metal repair. The tools include reverse presses, weld on metal tags and pullers, induction heaters along with glue tabs and pullers. An added benefit is the reduced cycle time -- the amount of time a vehicle spends in the shop for repair.” The equipment is portable and can utilized in either the Saskatoon or Regina programs.
Scott Kucharyshen, program head with the Auto Body Technician program in Saskatoon says, “The equipment makes the process less intrusive and greener as panels can be repaired rather than replaced,” says Kucharyshen. “Spaces between panels on new vehicles are a lot tighter, some parts are glued and welded in place and the types of metal are different. The BETAG tools allow for dents to be massaged and pulled back into place without cutting or drilling into the metal work. These tools also give our students the opportunity to train on the best dent repair technology available.”
The donation has significance for the Bissonnettes. “It was important for Barb and I to support students at the Saskatoon campus (formerly Kelsey Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences) as we both took our training there,” says Tom. The couple met at the campus in 1977. Barb was in second year of the Recreation Technology diploma program and Tom was taking the Farm Machinery Mechanics Technology diploma program.
“It took a while to meet Tom, as he was one of those ‘attractive mechanics’ in the shops and I was taking classes on the 4th floor,” says Barb.
Tom disagreed, “Barb was vice president of the student council and popular on campus - I was a nobody.”
After graduating, Barb went on to work for Parks Canada for two years and Tom worked for Jarvie Farm Equipment. Tom and Barb married in 1979 and eventually settled in Saskatoon. Barb, an employee for Saskatchewan Polytechnic began a career in Student Services. Tom eventually went into sales selling automotive supplies. After an economic downturn stifled his sales career, he landed a job with a local auto body shop working in the parts department. With his mechanical background and managerial skills he learned in the Ag Machinery Tech program, he eventually became shop manager. Tom went on to work at Dodge City on 8th Street in Saskatoon in the late eighties and early nineties.
Barb and Tom bought PARR Auto Body in 2000. Barb looked after the finances while Tom managed the shop.
“At first we wondered what we got ourselves into as the industry was struggling at the time,” says Tom. “Eventually the business began to turn a profit.” The Bissonnettes ran the shop with an open book management model to teach the employees to think like an owner. They also gave back to the community through PARR Auto Body by donating to the food bank, the Ronald McDonald house in Saskatoon and a senior care home close to the shop. There, employees would assist with meals and spend time playing cards with the residents. The Bissonnettes eventually sold shares of the auto body business to employees and moved on from the business in 2016.
Barb closed out her career at Sask Polytech working with the Advancement (donor and alumni) department before retiring in 2020. Barb says, “I really enjoyed working with the staff from all departments, programs and students from all campuses. One highlight was working with donors and seeing the difference a scholarship or equipment donation can make to a student. Plus, it is not every day you can get paid to give away money.”
These days the association keeps Tom connected to the industry he has worked in for so many years. “Instead of worrying about one shop I now have to worry about 150 shops,” he says. A member of SAAR since 1992, Tom notes the biggest change has been getting Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), Sask Polytech and members of the collision industry working together. “The better trained we are, the more we understand the needs and issues of our industry,” he says.
The donation from the Bissonnettes was originally going to be made through their will.
“We made the decision to give right now so we can see the difference the donation will make for the students,” says Barb. “It is very easy for anyone thinking about donating through their will, but our advice is don’t leave it until it is too late.”
Learn more at alumni.saskpolytech.ca.