There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) Facilities & Capital Manager, Ben Hickman. Ben’s six-foot-four frame can be kind of intimidating when he enters a room, but as soon as he opens his mouth to offer his view on a situation and you see the customary smile on his face, the assumed stereotype is quickly forgotten. The 34-year-old from Vevay, Indiana is as gentle as a lamb and some might even metaphorically equate Ben to a pineapple, rough and tough on the outside, but sweet and tender on the inside. This dichotomy makes Ben the fascinating subject of this month’s BOEC employee spotlight.
Born in the rolling hills of Switzerland County, Indiana (IN) with a mere population of 11,000, Ben only knew a small Midwestern town living growing up. His mother, a dental hygienist, and father, a lawyer, instilled the virtues of hard work, helping others, and the appreciation of a job well done into Ben when he was a youngster. In fact, one of his fondest memories is of helping his friend Josh, whose family owned a dairy farm. Josh’s father wasn’t physically able to run the farm, so Josh, at 14 years old, was thrown into managing the day-to-day activities, both before and after school. When Ben was alerted to the situation, he naturally offered to spend an entire summer milking cows, sowing sorghum, feeding the cows, and so on. It was all about helping a friend in need and offers a little glimpse into the makeup of Ben Hickman.
As he matured, Ben entered the workforce as a framer, putting his handyman skills to use in building hybrid log homes all over the country. The recession of 2008 put an end to that endeavor and he decided to try his hand at academia, following the Ohio River southwest to New Albany, IN, and Indiana University Southeast (IUS). As a Psychology major, he quickly realized that his George Orwell-esque empathy was a quality that he might be able to build upon. While there, Ben excelled in his coursework, taking home the Left Brain Award presented by Professor and founder of The Shyness Research Institute, Bernardo Carducci, and was nominated for the Student of the Year in Psychology. It seemed Ben was well on his way to joining his older brother (Master’s in Clinical Psychology) and older sister (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) in academia.
“I think we were messed up as kids so we’re all trying to figure out what’s wrong with ourselves, Ben jokingly chuckles when thinking back to all three siblings studying psychology.” I ended up there (at IUS) while my brother was doing his Master’s up in Bloomington, IN at the main campus while I was considering either going back into the workforce or trying to go for a Master’s. I even considered medical school at one point.”
Ben ultimately chose the workforce option with his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology now in hand, and shifted his journey to Bloomington in pursuit of a career path along the likes of his brother and sister. With no real leads on a full-time job and working a bunch of odd jobs, he finally landed an interview and subsequent position as an in-home healthcare recruiter back in his college town of New Albany.
In his new position, Ben managed nearly 160 employees, their schedules, payroll, and all of the grievances with the homes they managed. Unfortunately, the new endeavor was short-lived when one of the residences he managed saw a multiple murder and suicide situation occur that rocked the empath’s world.
“I immediately thought to myself that I have to get out of this job,” remembers Ben. “Cases like that one illustrate how I take on a lot of burdens from the people around me. Their emotional state can affect me pretty badly.”
So, for the foreseeable future, Ben’s foray into the world of psychology had taken an abrupt halt. He quickly realized that counseling depressed or emotionally conflicted people was not good for his emotional state, as the burdens of others weigh heavily on him and cause him to get depressed himself. So, across the Ohio River he went, landing in the bustling metropolis of Louisville, Kentucky to manage a Sherwin Williams franchise, build decks for Lowe’s, and perform cabinet resurfacing for Home Depot. For the time being, Ben’s empathetic soul was able to take a much-needed break. However, he quickly realized that working three jobs was a bit too much to handle and he decided to place his focus on just running the paint store.
A seemingly simpler life it was until Ben met University of Louisville OBGYN resident and western Tennessee native, Holly, and his world was once again turned upside down. But this time it was in a good way as the two love birds married two years later and started a family in September 2018 when their son, Lincoln was born.
Discussions between the two had been taking place on what the future might hold for them once she graduated from medical school. That’s when the idea of Breckenridge, Colorado started to take shape. Holly’s good friend is a partner in a Breckenridge-based medical practice and invited her to interview for an open position. Holly, being the oldest of seven siblings and naturally adverse to the cold weather, was not immediately enthralled by the idea of moving to the mountains of Colorado. Ben, on the other hand, being the adventurous type, was, let’s say, a bit enthusiastic about the opportunity.
“I talked her into coming out and interviewing for the job and she liked it enough to ask me what I thought about the possibility,” remembers Ben. “I said, you know what my answer is. Then, on the flight back from her interview, she turned to me and said ‘let’s do it!’ Nine months later, we were in Summit County. She didn’t even give anyone else a shot.”
So, the Indiana, then Kentucky, then Indiana once again resident was now a Colorado inhabitant, living the coveted Colorado lifestyle. With childcare hard to come by initially, Ben’s stay-at-home dad days were filled with lots of hiking, exploring the county, and simply getting accustomed to the Colorado mountains. That was until Holly found a job listing in the local newspaper that piqued the couple’s interest. BOEC-Ben was born!
“Holly knew that I was getting restless being at home,” says Ben. “I read the job description and saw that it was stuff I’ve been doing my whole life, so I applied. I was wavering back and forth a bit because it seemed like it might be too much responsibility, but I went on the BOEC website, watched the videos, and that convinced me that this was something that I wanted to be a part of.”
Heading into the interview process, Ben had an inkling that he wanted to be involved in some kind of action sports company in some way, but he knew very little about the adaptive side of things. What he did know, however, was that he didn’t want to return to the “what have you done for me lately” for-profit world and was intrigued by the prospect of working for a nonprofit organization. In December 2019, he was hired as the new Facilities & Capital Manager, a role that is responsible for the organization, maintenance, repair, and coordination of six BOEC facilities spread across Breckenridge and Keystone, oversight of the 39-acre BOEC Wilderness site, a plethora of program and capital equipment, and a fleet consisting of 13 vehicles.
For those of you who don’t live in the mountains of Colorado, you must know that the winter of 2019-20 was one for the record books and Ben might as well have thrown the job description away as snow management across BOEC’s facilities took center stage.
“When I first started, I thought my job was all about snow plowing because that winter it just dumped and dumped and dumped,” he says, thinking back to his first three months of work. “Jaime (Wilderness Program Director and who Ben reports to) kept telling me that it’ll slow up, but it never did. I got really good at plowing snow, though!”
As if the piles upon piles of snow and cold weather weren’t enough for the midwesterner to deal with, just three months into his position, COVID-19 struck, changing the focus of his role once again. While the majority of BOEC’s administrative staff could adapt to remote work, Ben’s hands-on position made it difficult to transition while he was still very much learning about his job and the organization in general.
“That was a tough time because it was right after I started working here,” says Ben. “I had learned a little bit about how the BOEC operates, but COVID hit while I was still trying to figure things out. Things pretty much came to an abrupt halt.”
But, if you know anything about Ben at this point, it’s that he’s resilient and has a tendency to look at the cup as half full. He took the opportunity to learn more about upcoming capital projects, how to get them all set up and started, and when budgets were issued many months later, he had those projects done before the end of the year.
“When we were looking for someone for Ben’s position, we really needed someone who could do a multitude of different things,” says Wilderness Program Director, Jaime Overmyer. “When I looked at his resume I knew I had to meet him immediately. At first handshake, it was apparent that Ben would fit into the BOEC family seamlessly, even though he was wearing a jacket and tie, which we joke about now that his standard uniform is a pair of Carhartt’s. He has such a great skills background that he can do basically anything. Ben has been amazing to work with and it’s been fun to get to know him and his little family more over the last few years. He cares about the BOEC so much and it’s evident with the care he takes in ‘making it nice’. We always have some random thing we need fixing and when he asks how I want it done, I just tell him, ‘make it nice’ and he does. He makes everything very nice.”
Now two and a half years later, and a ton of adversity behind him, Ben has a concrete grip on his position and has immersed himself fully into the BOEC culture. Relying heavily on his past experiences, he feels, is what makes him so successful.
“When I get to work on something that I’ve had experience with, it becomes very rewarding and I feel very efficient at it,” Ben says. “With all those past experiences I feel like I have the answers and it feels really nice to be in that frame of mind.”
And with that, we harken back to his days in Vevay helping Josh run the dairy farm. Ben enjoys getting to see the fruits of his labor after a hard day’s work, eliciting a sense of pride, something he missed before taking the job at the BOEC.
“Something I missed about when I was building log homes was when you build a house, you can drive down the road and see the end result of my work,” says Ben. “It’s definitely a fruit of your labor kind of job. And now at the BOEC, I find the same rewards in my work when my family – or other people – remark on the new tent platforms I built, or the new deck on the Griffith Lodge that I was in charge of creating. I take a lot of pride in what I’m doing on a daily basis.”
Just like Breckenridge, Ben’s job is very different during the summer and winter months. Yes, there is still some snow plowing on his plate, but the tender and empathetic nature of his personality has a preference for the time when people are more out and about, and there’s a buzz in the air.
“I prefer the action of summer because there’s a lot going on where I work (Griffith Lodge) and I really feed off having people around,” Ben says. “In the wintertime, it can get kind of dreary and I’m just fixing and organizing things so I don’t get to see the impact of what I’m doing. In the summer, I can directly impact what’s going on, I get some thank you’s, some high fives or smiles, and maybe even get invited to lunch once in a while.”
That leads to another aspect of Ben’s job that he enjoys the most. Enter the empath once again.
“Making our staff’s lives a little bit easier if I can, where I can, when I can is what it’s all about,” he says. “That’s why I got into this. I’ve always been searching for a job that helps people and changes lives and I think I’ve finally found where I’m meant to be.”
Speaking of meant to be, Ben likes to think of it as destiny.
“That’s how my wife put it, yes, destiny,” says Ben. “It’s kind of like the dream job. It combines who I am, my skills, my love for the outdoors, and these kinds of sports and stuff.”
When asked for three words to describe the BOEC, Ben is quick to answer, passion, adventure and camaraderie. Not really a surprise as we would be quick to argue that those exact three words describe Ben as well.
Maybe it truly was meant to be?!
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