Misty Whaley, standing in front of two of her welding helmets hanging on the wall, displays a work of art she produced with her metal work skills. The metal disc will be a seat to a stool she is making. (Staff Photo: Julie Wells)
It takes a strong, steady hand to be a mom, and in Misty Whaley’s case it requires her to apply the same skill in her profession.
When Whaley decided she wanted to earn a living with her hands, she considered becoming a carpenter. Being a woodworker seemed appealing. Then she learned that in reality, the day in and day out tasks generally consisted of framing, an activity that held little interest for her.
So, she enrolled in community college class called Women in Non-traditional Trades. As part of the class, students toured the job sites of different trades. She visited a sheet metal shop and made a tool box as a class assignment. That’s where she discovered her passion for metal work.
“I fell in love with the sheet metal part of it,” said Whaley.
Thus began her journey into a very male-dominated profession — welding.
Eleven years later, Whaley now works full-time as a welder for Perimeter Sheet Metal Company Inc. in Ellenwood. In her job, Whaley is responsible for cutting sheet metal to size and bending and shaping it to form a building component such as duct work for HVAC systems or hoods for stoves.
“I lean toward the welding part of it. I like the fabrication,” said Whaley. “It’s literally a sheet of metal like a piece of paper we take and I make whatever we need to out of that.”
A former Las Vegas resident who now lives in Conyers, Whaley, 37, first began apprenticing as a welder through the Joint Apprenticeship Training Center Local (JATC) #88 in Las Vegas in her mid-20s. Her training was interrupted when she and her three children had to relocate to Georgia to escape a domestic violence situation.
She finished up her schooling at the JATC Local #85 in Atlanta and has invested almost eight years with Perimeter Sheet Metal, which provides commercial and industrial fabrication and installation of sheet metal. Schools and colleges, government buildings, commercial properties, medical and healthcare facilities, manufacturing and industrial locations, office and studio space, and religious facilites all benefit from Perimeter Sheet Metal’s services.
Whaley works mostly in the shop on projects and occasionally goes out to job sites, such as schools and hospitals.
“You’re doing something different every day,” said Whaley. “I like to do something and do it well and then say, ‘I did that. I know where that’s going.’”
Whaley said as a welder she wears a fireproof jacket, leather gloves and a hood with a dark lens to protect her eyes. While the job can be physically demanding, the work is nothing she can’t handle, much to the surprise of some men.
“I probably got more comments in Las Vegas out there, but the older generation just doesn’t feel like women should be doing this at all because it’s a manly job and they feel it should be done by a man, and if I come in, they are less than a man,” said Whaley. “I do feel I’ve had to prove myself a little bit more than a man would.”
Not only does Whaley work full time as a welder; she’s also a single mother to Nathaniel, 15, a sophomore at Heritage High School; Malcolm, 14, an eighth-grader at General Ray Davis Middle School; and Savannah, 12, a seventh-grader at Ray Davis.
Whaley arises at 4 a.m. each day and enlists her middle son, Malcolm, a morning person, to help get the other two children up. She leaves the house at 6 a.m. and the children get themselves on the bus and to school. She is home by 4:30 p.m. and makes sure her daughter gets picked up from basketball at Ray Davis and her son Nathaniel from track and field and ROTC at Heritage. On the weekends, it’s time to relax.
Whaley said she’ll celebrate Mother’s Day by enjoying a breakfast cooked by her children or they just might all take it easy and go have a meal at O’Charley’s.
Either way, she’ll be appreciating every free moment with her children. No matter what they do, the important part is that they’ll be together.
“My kids are my world,” said Whaley.