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Bringing Home the Gold: Betty Coon

The first woman to pass the I-CAR Automotive MIG Welding Qualification Exam.

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It began as a labor of love about 15 years
ago, when Betty Coon became her husband’s helper.

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Working as a team, she and her husband, Ronald,
would tear down doors and the like. "The only way I could
see him is if I went to work with him," she says. "This
way, he got off earlier, so we had some play time also."

Ronald, who has more than 25 years in the
industry, taught Betty everything she knows. She began by taking
off fenders, needing Ronald’s help to put them back on and to
get them lined up, but "through the years, he taught me how
to do all of it," says Coon. "I love it."

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These days, Coon no longer carries the title
of "helper." Her new title? The world’s first I-CAR-certified
woman welder.

Making Sparks

The first woman to pass the I-CAR Automotive
MIG Welding Qualification Exam, Coon is still working as a team
with her husband at Capitol Collision Repair Specialists in Phoenix,
Ariz. "It made me think, ‘For once in my life, I could be
first at something,’ " she says.

Coon decided to take the exam after her husband
did. "I did it for myself," she says. "It doesn’t
seem like there’s really a title to it. I still do my job, but
now I’m certified, and it made my husband’s job easier also. …
They said there hadn’t been a woman certified yet and that I ought
to. I thought it might be fun."

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Coon didn’t do much welding up until then,
but now she does most of it. "My husband lost an eye years
ago," Coon says, "Welding is hard on him, which was
another part of my decision to get MIG-weld certified."

Coon practiced quite a bit on Saturdays at
the shop for her test, on which she had to pass welding a plug
weld, a lap joint and a butt joint with backing.

Who Will Be Second?

The industry’s first-woman welder is thankful
for having had her own personal trainer. Realizing that not everyone
is able to be in such an ideal situation, Coon offers some advice:
"Your best bet is to start out as a helper and get some hands-on
experience," she says. "And while you’re a helper, start
buying tools."

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Coon believes those who have industry experience
can – and should – teach others how to do what they do. "It
takes so many tools to get into [the industry] that a lot of people
shy away from it," she says.

Former I-CAR Executive Vice President Jeffrey
Silver says he thinks more women need to consider careers in the
industry and that Coon’s accomplishment is a positive step toward
awakening women to today’s opportunities. I-CAR Board Chairman
William Mayer agrees. "It’s a great example," he says.
"I hope she leads the way and shows others that it’s an industry
that’s open to women and that they can succeed just as any man."

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What does Colin Johnston, shop manager at
Capitol Collision, think about having the world’s first in his
shop? "It definitely means a big liberation for women,"
he says. "In my opinion, they’re accepted doing just about
anything now.

"I believe even 10 years ago, people
would have been very skeptical of my having a woman body tech
in my shop, and today, any skeptics are quickly put in their place."

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