REEDS SPRING—As a little girl, FraLynn Fredrick-Patten longed to be in her grandpa’s garage, working alongside him as he fixed cars.
The now-senior at Reeds Spring High School loved hearing stories about the auto repair shop he opened after military service, and how the place became the go-to fix-it spot in the neighborhood.
“If something broke, you’d go to him. He used to have a pole truck he built himself and I have seen pictures and been like ‘That’s really cool,'” said FraLynn, 18.
She said her grandpa Marvin Fredrick, now retired and living near Cape Fair, invited her into the garage as soon as she was old enough. “He passed that knowledge down to my sister and I.”
He taught FraLynn the basics, including how to change oil and take off and put on tires. He showed her how to use different tools. “That helped to build the inspiration.”
The more FraLynn learned about fixing cars, the more she wanted to know — from her grandpa and from others.
“I didn’t get to spend as much time in the shop with my grandfather as I would have liked to,” she said. “I really wanted to be able to work with him and have my own basis of knowledge, where I can take off on my own, because I’ve had an interest in automotive.”
Despite working a part-time job and juggling a full roster of extracurricular activities, she enrolled in the district’s automotive technology program at the start of her junior year.
The move splits her day. She spends mornings at the high school in core classes, where she takes dual credit classes and maintains nearly straight As. She spends afternoons at the Gibson Technical Center.
She learns hands-on in a program and career field still mostly dominated by men.
“For me, it’s the problem-solving,” she said.
‘A leader in the class’
FraLynn changes spark plugs and starters, fixes ignition coils, replaces brakes, aligns cars and recently pulled a transmission.
She does not mind getting her hands and her clothes dirty.
“She just gets in there and she has become a leader in the class, rather than somebody who stands back,” said Nick Thieman, director of the Gibson Technical Center.
“If you ask any of the teachers, or even the class, who is our best mechanic, they would say FraLynn.”
Automotive technology is the center’s most popular program. Thieman said students can earn the certifications needed to enter the workforce after graduation or succeed at post-secondary or specialized training programs.
FraLynn enjoys all the tasks but with experience has developed a specific interest.
“Restoration is one of my favorite things. I mean, the turning wrenches part is always fun but the thing I like with classic cars is getting to work on something you don’t get to see very often,” she said.
FraLynn said she has learned a lot from instructors and loves the camaraderie and the constant joking between the classmates in the program.
“There is a little bit of competitiveness but for the most part, we either work together or we find a different project,” she said.
Thieman said among the talented leaders in the automotive technology program, both male and female, FraLynn has stood out.
She is the center’s nominee for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Non-Traditional Career-Technical Education Student of the Year. And she is considered “non-traditional” because is a female in a male-dominated field.
“She just breaks the mold and the thing about FraLynn is that she does everything. She is in our SkillsUSA Club,” he said. “She is a very, very busy girl and she has been able to mesh in with the guys and then actually be a leader with the guys and you can see that.”
She hails from car-loving family
FraLynn grew up in a car-loving family that has a 1964 Chevy Impala and a 1970s-era Pontiac Trans Am.
She drives a late-1990s GMC, which she described as an “in-between” vehicle, after losing a 1997 Ford Ranger in a wreck.
“It was rough. Loved that truck because we did a lot of custom stuff on it,” she said.
She has discovered, after working on a range of vehicles, that her love is older, classic cars. Her dream is to fully restore one from the ground-up.
“I like a lot of the hands-on stuff more than the computer-side of things,” she said. “I would choose to work on 1990s, or back, cars before I’d choose the 2010 model, if I could.”
Her ideal restoration project is a challenging one out of the 1950s. “If it wasn’t for the parts being so unavailable, I would love for it to be a Studebaker.”
At this point, FraLynn isn’t contemplating a career in the automotive field, a decision she came to after figuring out she prefers to work on older cars, not the newer ones. But she plans to keep learning.
“I’d like to be able to do something my instructors do when a car comes in and they can hear something, or somebody can describe something, and they’re like ‘Well, it’s either this or this’ and then narrow it down,” she said. “I want to get to that knowledge level.”
Growing ‘closer’ to her grandpa
Outside of cars, FraLynn has a lot of other interests. She has a 3.97 GPA, unweighted, and pushes herself academically.
FraLynn is in Color Guard during marching band season, plays flute in concert band and is involved in drama, tennis and quiz bowl. She serves on the superintendent’s student advisory council, is an officer in National Honor Society and is president of SkillsUSA, a career-technical organization.
Outside of school, she has worked part-time at Silver Dollar City for the past four years and is heavily involved in dancing ballroom, tap, jazz and ballet.
FraLynn said through her sophomore year in high school, she was fairly reserved. She has since come out of her shell.
“No one knew my name because I made sure they didn’t. I didn’t talk to people,” she said. “I was terrified of any social kind of interaction.”
A shift started in 2020, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued when she got involved in the automotive technology program.
“I was like, ‘If everything else is changing, why don’t I change?’ And I decided to stick myself out there and make a name for myself in something,” she said.
She plans to study performing arts — drama, musical theater and dance — in college and will soon tour Southeast Missouri State University and Missouri State University, her top choices at this point.
“I’m keeping the automotive I’m learning on the side,” she said. “I see it as a side hustle for myself, maybe restoring older cars and selling them.”
She continues to make time for her grandpa, hanging out with him whenever possible, and asking him questions about fixing cars and his life.
“He really enjoys shop work. He likes to talk about his shop,” she said. “And that is something that really brings us closer.”
About the series
The “Future of the Ozarks” series, spotlighting extraordinary students in the Ozarks, will publish on Mondays.
The series will feature students with an incredible talent, accomplishment, or passion for helping others. To nominate an individual, email Claudette Riley, education reporter, with details and contact information at [email protected]