Niles boat building class brings families together

Published 8:19 am Friday, October 16, 2015

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT Niles’ Corban and Elijah Gable help their dad, Tom, put the finishing touches on their flat-bottom canoe. LEFT: Thirteen-year-old Kree Hurley helps her younger sister, Kevae, shape the gunwale of a canoe using a hand plane.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
Niles’ Corban and Elijah Gable help their dad, Tom, put the finishing touches on their flat-bottom canoe.

Tom Gable stood by and watched as his sons used a hand plane to shape the top edge of an almost-finished wooden canoe earlier this month in a Career and Technical Education shop at Niles High School.

About five feet to his left, Kori Hurley and her four daughters, Kaia, Kree, Kaari and Kevae were also putting the final touches on their boat.

It was a typical day in the family boat building class taught by Niles CTE teacher Tom Hurst, who has been building boats for more than 25 years.

“I’ve done a lot of family boat building with other organizations… and I’ve seen it fix a lot of crazy situations,” he said. “They end up helping each other and the families get to know each other.”

Gable, who lives in Niles, said the class was the perfect way to spend quality time with his sons, Corban, 10, and Elijah, 8.

“They love doing wood working,” said the 43-year-old. “I’m letting them do most of the work. I want them to have the experience and to be able to say that they did it.”

Nine families in all took the course, which was provided for the first time to home school children and their families through Niles’ and Berrien Springs’ Home School Partnership. Students in Niles High School’s fabrication classes also helped out the families, although they did not make a boat for themselves.

The class met once a week for about three hours and, after about a month, each family left with a three-panel, flat-bottom canoe.

“This is the simplest boat I know how to build,” said Hurst. “It can go on a pond, in flat water, and will hold about 250 pounds.”

Kori Hurley had a similar answer to Tom Gable’s when asked why she signed up for the class.

She wanted to work with her family toward a common goal.

“Plus, we get a boat,” said the Niles woman, adding that they plan to try it out on the St. Joseph River.

Fifty-two-year-old Tom Allen, of Coloma, said the class was a unique way to spend time with his 11-year-old daughter, Miren.

“It beats playing Minecraft all day,” he said.

Although the fall semester family boat building class is over, Hurst said he plans to offer the course again to home school students in the spring.

He said he’d love to offer it to traditional high school students, but funding is a problem. It costs about $250 in materials to build the boat, he said, and home school tuition covers that expense.

That’s not the case for traditional students.

“I would love to expand it if we could find the funding,” he said.

Home school students interested in taking part in the family boat building class in the spring should contact Gail Bliss, Niles home school liaison, by phone at (269) 683-0736 ext. 155 or by email at