propane teachers
The industry sounds off on the life lessons they would pass on & skill sets they’ve acquired

Who knew we are surrounded by teachers, mentors, coaches and others who share wisdom and useful life skills? There are some fine examples here of people who have found the value of extending a hand to someone.

I suggest exploring the volunteer-based mentorship program Knowledge Exchange ( Share your industry knowledge in a virtual mentorship and make an impact in our industry. In this column, we offer our responders a chance to answer the question posed in the title. These are their replies reported verbatim:

I have spent half of my career in education as a special education teacher and administrator. In addition to the fundamental curriculum required to teach, I always would find a way to teach what I call ‘lifelong lessons/skills’ to my students and staff. I consider three of the following essential life skills to be critical in developing adults to be prepared for work in today’s society: Effective communication (both written and oral) is a critical skill to possess.


Time management allows individuals to organize their daily schedules, establish priorities, complete tasks and develop responsibility. Problem-solving requires individuals to adapt to a variety of challenging situations and make informed decisions based on fact, not emotion. You can add the following skills to the list: interpersonal skills, critical thinking, empathy and negotiation.

Jerry Schimmel
P3 Propane Safety
Cumberland, Rhode Island

One topic that I would not be able to teach is patience; my wife would testify that it’s not my strength. But what I could teach is how to pay attention to details. This is something that my father taught me, and I have worked to pass it on to anyone I have mentored.

Jason Soulon
Westmor Industries
Shawnee, Kansas

My first thought when I read this question was leadership, because I’ve been in leadership roles throughout my life. I was told at a young age that I was a natural leader, and I’ve worked continuously to develop my skill set. Then, I thought, that sounds presumptuous; I can’t say that.

I decided to reach out to a few people close to me and asked, ‘If I were to teach, what would I be good at teaching?’ They each independently said leadership. One said leadership or listening. Being a great listener is one of the most important elements to being a good leader.

Lauren Clark
Toledo, Ohio

If I were to teach something, it would be preparing young people for life in the workforce. It is important early in a career to understand how to complete tasks as well as carry yourself professionally. Strive for success and appreciate the failures. Every experience is a learning opportunity. Believe in yourself and be open to constructive criticism. It is also important to learn what life balance is and how to stay focused on priorities. How we act and react is as important as any formal education. Hard work does pay off.

Ed Varney
RegO Products
McKinney, Texas

This question made me immediately think of mentoring and coaching. Seventeen years ago, I began my career in this industry, and while I had strong leaders help me later in my career, I wish I would have had that guidance early on. Helping others develop and achieve their goals is a rewarding process.

I am chair of our Women’s Impact Network and have been for years, as I enjoy watching and being a part of people’s growth and development. Some introduce me as their life coach, and I’m proud and honored, as I truly have a desire to make a positive impact on others.

Hayley Karicofe
Churchville, Virginia

I would teach not to worry. In this day and age, everything is scary and unknown. Concentrate, be focused, be attentive, problem solve and know that it will all work out.

Laurie Irish-Jones
Irish Propane
Buffalo, New York

I love to teach, so it wouldn’t be a ‘had to’ for me! My favorite subject to teach would be customer service! I spent 20 years owning my own retail business and honed customer service skills. After that stint, I joined my brothers in their computer software business; I have now spent more than 20 years in the industry in customer support.

Our dad started his propane business in the 1950s and lived by the theory that everyone can sell propane, but not everyone can or does offer great customer service. So, he built his business with honesty and great customer service. My brothers and I have built our business on the same principles. As our company grows, we continue to educate and offer training for our staff to stress the goal of our company to give great customer service.

Susan Peterson
Rural Computer Consultants
Bird Island, Minnesota

If I had the ability and knowledge, I would teach music. Music has been a big part of my life ever since I was a child. To be able to pass that appreciation on to someone would be very rewarding!

Rosie Buschur
McMahan's Bottle Gas

Dayton, Ohio

I enjoy teaching math to adults who may be working toward their GED or hoping to enroll in a program that will help improve their current station in life. It’s not complicated stuff — just basic algebra and geometry, where people can see real-world applications that can help them get past their doubts about learning math.

Bruce Swiecicki
National Propane Gas Association
Tinley Park, Illinois

I love what I do, and I love seeing people grow in life and in their career, so I would want to teach, coach or mentor personal and career development. I have enjoyed an amazing 30-plus-year career in this industry and have made so many friendships and witnessed firsthand their amazing career growth. I’m humbled and happy to say I have had the opportunity to work with more than my share of hungry and dedicated folks along the way; seeing that is exciting.

At times I see people that want it all now without doing the work and others that just don’t see the big picture in terms of where to focus, experiences to pursue, etc. Age and experience, I think, can be helpful in stretching people in ways that prepare them for more. Otherwise, we’re just working a job with multiples of the same basic experience.

Boyd H. McGathey
Energy Distribution Partners
Parkville, Missouri

I don’t really consider myself an expert in anything in our industry or much of a teacher, for that matter. But they tell you, ‘Teach what you know,’ so if I had to teach, I would go back to what I know — horses. I used to teach and train for a living before I met that gas guy. I would go back to giving riding lessons and, selectively, breaking horses again.

Judy Taranovich
Proctor Gas
Proctor, Vermont


Teach Them to Fish

For me, one of the gratifying aspects of becoming a mentor in our industry was realizing the reciprocal nature of both sides of a mentorship — in other words, “When one teaches, two learn.”

Nancy Coop is an industry advocate. She serves as marketing director at Cetane Associates. Contact her at


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