CANAJOHARIE - When Mary-Jean Chapple first got into the kayak earlier this month, she needed some help from Dwayne Heroth's technology students.
"I'd never been in a kayak before," she said with a laugh. "So I got some help from the boys."
Once she was securely inside the craft, Chapple - a second-grade teacher at East Hill Elementary School - paddled around with no problem and enjoyed a gorgeous spring day out on the water.
Mary-Jean Chapple, a second-grade teacher at East Hill Elementary?School in Canajoharie, paddles a kayak May 11. The kayak was started by her husband, Jeff Chapple, a longtime technology teacher in the Fort Plain school district, who died in February 2010. Jeff’s friend and Canajoharie technology teacher, Dwayne Heroth, eventually finished the kayak along with some of his students.
Photo submitted by Canajoharie Central?School
While the experience was a happy one, she said, it did make her a little sad. This was no ordinary kayak Chapple was paddling in, after all. Her husband, Jeff, had started making the kayak for her. When he died in February 2010, the project could have sat unfinished and been forgotten.
Heroth, a technology teacher at Canajoharie High School, made sure that did not happen.
When Heroth started teaching, about 23 years ago, Jeff Chapple - who spent many years as a technology teacher at Fort Plain - was one of the people he would call for advice on teaching.
"We became friends through the profession," Heroth said.
Heroth was at Jeff Chapple's wake when he found out his friend had an unfinished project.
Mary-Jean said her husband always had some sort of project he was working on - guitars, furniture model airplanes, etc.
The kayak came about through a request Mary-Jean made to Jeff. She enjoyed canoeing, but her husband did not. So she suggested, for one of his projects, Jeff build her a kayak so she could go by herself.
Heroth said he would be happy to finish up the work on the kayak and bring it in as a class project to get his students involved in the construction.
By the time they got to work on it in school, it was close to Thanksgiving break.
"When I picked it up [from the Chapples' house] it was basically a hull and a bundle of wood," Heroth said.
There was still plenty of work to do to get the kayak ready to go, including adding forms to shape the top, constructing the top itself, gluing pieces together and using plenty of fiberglass resin and cloth.
However, Heroth said he had no doubt the students would be able to finish the project.
"[The students] realized it was a challenging task," he said.
About nine students plus Heroth spent time working on the project, along with other projects, until it was finished in the first week of May.
The students got to learn about marine construction and fiberglassing, Heroth said, and they got to work with more epoxy resin and fiberglass than most projects would allow them to do.
"I'm very happy we were able to help her out," Heroth said. "It is something she'll be able to have for years."
"It's beautiful," she said. "It's not some regular store-bought thing. It's special."
When the kayak was ready, some of the students, Mary-Jean and Heroth took it to Mahr Road in the town of Root. She paddled the kayak on one of the lakes created by George Vosburgh.
Heroth said the students, some of whom worked on the project every school day, were very proud. Some of them had Mary-Jean as a teacher in school, he said, so they had extra incentive to work on the kayak.
"They took it to heart," Heroth said.
Mary-Jean also did. She said she wrote Heroth a note letting him know she would think of the people who finished it for her whenever she used it.
She said her husband would have been happy too, given all of the projects he worked on with his own students.
"For [the students] to finish the kayak," Mary-Jean said. "knowing that would have pleased him."