ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Mike Fruechting, who farmed into his later 30s, had gladly accepted his destiny to work in rural Marion beside his father, a second generation farmer.
But one day, all that changed.
As he was working the fields on his tractor, he called his wife, Nancy, and said, “We’re quitting farming.”
That simple statement ended the most ancient of careers, toiling the soil, and catapulted Fruechting into one of the newest professions, computer technology.
“I thought, OK, he’s either had a heat stroke, lost his mind or has more faith than I do,” Nancy said.
Today, Mike is affectionately called “the computer man” by his children and has a full-time position as technology coordinator for Marion’s United School District 408.
Like most parents, the computer age caught the couple off guard when about four years ago their then-12-year-old son came home with computer knowledge.
“We had a computer, and I didn’t want my son coming home telling me how to run it,” Mike said. “So I wanted to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could.”
The two enrolled in an introductory computer class at the Butler County Community College branch in Marion. Mike took one more computer course at Butler while Nancy stayed home with their three boys.
“I also happened to have a real good friend, Stu, who knew a lot about computers, and he told me no matter what I did to it or how I broke it, he could help fix it,” Mike said. “So as soon as I got over my fear of a computer, I started opening it up and tried to find out what made it work.”
He and his friend began a bit of “friendly competition,” which Mike said still exists-whatever one discovers, the other one learns it and goes one better.
But at the time their competition began, Mike decided to enroll in a one-week computer technology course at New Horizons Computer Learning Center in Wichita.
Then in August 1998, he was hired part-time as tech support for the Marion school district. Still farming, he was hired to repair personal computers for the schools, Mike said.
In October of that year, he completed the 35-hour course at the learning center and passed a certification test to become an A+ Certified Service Technician.
“That means you’re certified to take the top off of a computer and work on it,” Mike said.
His next goal was to become a Certified Novel Administrator, which took him to Hesston College one night a week for one semester of three college-credit hours.
During that time, Mike was driving a tractor and talking via his cell phone to his Hesston instructor. After talking to his instructor, he called his wife to tell her he was changing careers.
“He came home that night and said, ‘We’re going to give it up-this is what I’m going to do,'” Nancy said.
“He said the time had come that he was spending more time sitting on his tractor thinking about what he could be doing on the computer than thinking about what he could be doing with the tractor.”
Another catalyst for his decision was recent news that his father was ready to retire from farming.
“It was going to be up to us to take over the whole operation,” Mike said. “And at that time, the financial aspect of farming was not great. So that accelerated the move in a different direction because it was going to be really hard on us to try to take over all of that we had been doing jointly.”
In November 1998, his contract with USD 408 was extended to eight months, and at the end of that time, he was offered a full-time position with the school district.
“They needed some help desperately because the tech coordinator that was here was only working half time,” Mike said. “They found out with the extra help, they were getting a lot more done with somebody around five days a week to fix things.”
His first office was at the high school in a small room that housed all the servers for the district. It eventually was moved to a larger room in its present position at the school district’s central office on North Thorp.
As he began developing the parameters of his full-time position for the school district, Mike completed his one-semester course at Hesston and became a Certified Novel Administrator.
His next career goal was to become a Certified Novel Engineer. To date, he has completed eight more credit hours at Hesston and is four hours away from the required credit hours to allow him to take the certification test.
Mike said the district job definitely suits his personality.
“I’ve always been a fixer. That was my big job on the farm. I fixed everything that broke and apparently I liked doing it because I love fixing these things.”
Repairing and maintaining the district computers is a big part of his work day, Mike said.
The programs he works with are written by someone else, and it’s his job to make them run on the school network and make them usable for everybody.
One of his priorities was to make sure the school network was secure for students and teachers.
“One of the nice things I was able to do when I was full time was spend the time to go through the servers in the network and make sure that all the security was set up properly.”
Looking after about 275 computers in the district involves re-building ailing computers, a money saver for the district that would otherwise have to buy new computers.
His job also involves developing packages that allow anyone in the district to log on to their computer and automatically download a program.
“Before, I would have to go install them in the individual computer one by one,” Mike said.
If a full-time computer technology position and class work at Hesston college sounds like enough to satisfy most computer enthusiasts, maybe Mike isn’t like most people.
He reads computer manuals in the evening for fun like cooking enthusiasts read cookbooks, Nancy said.
Mike also bought the city of Marion’s Web site, marionks.com. and runs that. In addition to that extra job, he builds Web sites for other companies through marionks.com Web Design and services and repairs computers through marionks.com Service and Repair.
“And he just got a recent award called the Golden Web Award,” Nancy said. “It’s a prestigious award for having one of the nicest Web sites, judged by your peers to say you’ve done a good job.”
Mike has no regrets as he reflects on leaving his farming career, he said.
“I liked the freedom of farming-you’re working hard, and there’s a sense of pride in getting the job done. And some of those things go on here. It’s my job to make sure everything gets done just like it was in farming.”
His children call him computer man, Nancy refers to him as a true geek, and a technology club he belongs to calls themselves the computer nerds.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Mike said. “At the time when we were changing careers, to me it wasn’t that big of a decision. Looking back on it, it’s a monumental step. But at the time, I was so sure everything was going to work out.”