KAUKAUNA, Wis. – Amidst the hammering and clamoring of automotive technology class, a surprise was brewing at Kaukauna High School.

Longtime teacher Dan Von Boxtel won the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence and the big reveal was Tuesday morning.

“I’m overwhelmed and filled with the excitement,” Van Boxtel said. “I kind of never thought I’d see a day like this.”

The prize is $50,000.

$35,000 goes to the school district for continued skilled trades education. The rest goes to Mr. Van Boxtel who told Local 5 News he spend 30 hours on the application which was one of only 20 to win among the nearly 800 competitors, according to Harbor Freight which puts on the Tools for Schools contest every year.

“I thought what are my chances,” Van Boxtel recalled. “But then I thought, I’m going to give it a shot. Try my best. Because if I could bring some financial resources to buy equipment for the shop, whatever I could do, I was going to do.”

That kind of sentiment is the hallmark of a teacher and coach who’s been doing this for more than 40 years.

And at a time when our country is facing a skilled trades worker shortage, his influence on the next generation was duly noted with a special Congressional Proclamation from the office of Congressman Mike Gallagher.

But Mr. Van Boxtel says the true reward is seeing students succeed in life, not just mechanics.

“I tell all my kids, I want them to find a job, a career, that they love to do. I tell my wife, I’m not going to work. I’m going to school. I’m going to do what I love to do.”

Mr. Van Boxtel says he plans to take his wife on a big vacation with his winnings.