Once again this holiday season, Minnesota State College Southeast’s welding, auto body and transportation students are acting as Santa’s helpers for the Winona community.
Last year’s giant 17-foot-tall holiday tree was such a success that the Winona Main Street Program asked the college to create another installation for 2022.
Welding instructor Casey Mann proposed that the college fabricate a life-size Santa’s sleigh. Working from his designs, his students built the sleigh from steel panels, bars and tubing, then sent it over to the auto body collision technology program to be professionally painted.
Early this week, the sleigh will be brought to its holiday home at Peter’s Biergarten at 54 East Third St., Winona. That’s where the “Light Up Downtown” holiday lighting ceremony will take place on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The free event will include an appearance by Santa, along with candy, cookies and cocoa, plus caroling and holiday fun for everyone.
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“I’ll definitely be at Light Up Downtown,” said Noah Friedl, a 20-year-old welding technology student from Becker, Minn., who had a hand in crafting the sleigh. “We all know what the sleigh looks like, but I haven’t seen the huge tree that last year’s students built!”
The welding technology students started work on the sleigh on Oct. 7, and it was ready for paint by Oct. 19. All the students in the one-year diploma program were involved in the fabrication process.
Zoey Trapp, age 21, originally came from Mantorville, Minn. After graduating from high school, she moved out west for a year, then returned to Winona for the diploma in welding technology at Southeast.
According to Zoey, the sleigh project has been a great opportunity for the students to work together. She described welding as “fun,” saying, “I just like laying down welds that look good. It’s about being satisfied with your work after you made the weld.”
Matt Piringer, age 38, moved to the Winona area from St. Paul. Previously he worked in pathology at labs and hospitals, so welding is a major career change for him.
He said he particularly enjoyed getting to work on a custom project with tangible results. “Just seeing what you can actually do with welding is what keeps my interest. The sleigh is just one example of that.”
Casey Mann rearranged his curriculum this fall to make sure the students could build the sleigh on time. His students began the school year by learning MIG and stick welding. They practiced welds on small sample pieces of metal, so having the opportunity to jump right into a major custom fabrication project in their first semester was exciting.
Mann said, “They can be doing really well on the practice welds, but when it comes to making a real project, things change.”
Noah Friedl added, “It’s great seeing how you started at the beginning of the class, seeing how you progressed through learning a technique, and what you’re able to do for a final product after you’re done learning it.”
Once the sleigh was constructed, it was transported over to the auto body collision technology program, where students primed and painted it. The runners were painted bright white, while two coats of dark red iridescent paint were applied to the sleigh.
Mann noted that the color of the sleigh varies depending on the light. “Auto Body had some very unusual, very expensive paint donated a while back, and it was just waiting for the right project to use it on. It can even look green from certain angles!”
Working on a project for the community is meaningful for the college students. They will be able to say, “I helped make that!” at Light Up Downtown for years to come.
Matt Piringer is looking forward to the Light Up Downtown ceremony. “The sleigh is something that you’ve put your time and energy into that is going to be used for years and years,” he said. “Just seeing people enjoy it is going to be a good feeling.”
Looking into the future, Noah Friedl added that their project would be something they might visit every holiday season. “Whenever any of us would have a family, we can bring our kids or our nieces and nephews to see the sleigh and see them enjoy it.”
“The Winona Chamber (of Commerce) and the Main Street Program have been so fortunate to partner with Minnesota State College Southeast for many years, but they’ve been invaluable since the start of Light Up Downtown,” Anna Sibenaller, Director of Main Street Programs. “We’re looking forward to the successes our partnership with the college will bring in the future.”
The sleigh and the holiday tree will be on display until New Year’s, so be sure to stop down and see them!
Every week, Campus Connection shares updates on programs, activities, faculty and alumni, and campus life from Winona’s three colleges.
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