Video series earns Manley a Waibel award

Benny Westcott

Sweet Home High School forestry and natural resources instructor Blake Manley received the first-ever Rob Waibel Educator of the Year Award in April, presented by the Oregon Natural Resources Educators Association (ONREA).

ONREA President Lori Loeffler, a natural resources career and technical education instructor at Tillamook High School, said Manley was selected “because of his work on the ‘Manley Jobs’ series of videos and the creative means he used to reach kids during the lockdowns. That series of videos has become part of many classroom lesson plans, including my own, as well as outreach to other states to gain momentum and interest in the Future Natural Resources Leaders [FNRL] program outside of Oregon.”

Manley’s YouTube channel features eight “Manley Jobs” episodes, all highlighting the day-to-day work of professions ranging from log-truck driving to fishing guides to farming. It boasts more than 3,000 subscribers. (Follow the series here:

“A lot of associations honor their best person, but for the pandemic year that we had, that’s kind of hard to figure out,” Manley said. “You’re not in the classroom and you’re not doing things the same way. So there were a couple of us that did things quite a bit differently, and one of those was ‘Manley Jobs’ and doing something digitally, because it was what we had. We didn’t have a classroom.

“One of the goals we normally have in Sweet Home’s forestry and natural resources program is to see different industries and companies – get the kids out of their seats and go see it,” he continued. “When you can’t do that, the next best thing is to take them virtually to that company and do it.”

Award namesake and former Sweet Home resident Rob Waibel, who died in 2020 at the age of 54, was a forestry and natural resources teacher at the Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center in Clackamas, where, as was noted at the ceremony, “he inspired, taught, laughed, and shared his passion for life and learning with everyone he met. Waibel was passionate about education and serving his community and students. … He worked on the founding of the FNRL and the ONREA. He served as a leader in natural resources education, and his legacy in forestry and natural resources education will be honored by future educators receiving this award.”

Manley said he knew Waibel and was “humbled” by the award. “Rob is a Sweet Home graduate from years and years ago, and a heck of a good educator,” he said.

When asked what motivated him to go above and beyond for his own students, Manley said, “I can’t do anything halfway. I just can’t. And that stems from my parents.”

Manley, who grew up in Cove – what he calls “podunk Oregon” – will be entering his fourth year at Sweet Home High School, but he had an inkling that he might become involved in teaching long before coming to town.

“My last years in high school and my first years out, I wanted to be a teacher,” he said.

He said he loved teaching and would teach-assist lower level math classes while attending Cove High School, graduating in 2000. But as soon as he went into college math, he realized he didn’t want to be a math teacher. So he shelved that idea and earned a forestry degree from the University of Idaho, graduating in 2008, after transferring from Eastern Oregon University, which he attended for a year.

After college, Manley went to work for the U.S. Forest Service for a couple of summers in Petersburg, Alaska, where he worked on an island with only about 2,000 inhabitants. He then moved to Bellingham, Wash., where he spent three years as a night shift supervisor for Sauder Mouldings Inc. in nearby Ferndale. After that, he returned to Cove and his family’s business, Manley Brothers Logging, for seven years.

During that stretch he also served as Cove High’s athletic director and head track coach for two years, as well as the football team’s offensive coordinator for one year.

Football is Manley’s greatest sports love. The four-year high-school letterman played at Eastern Oregon and the University of Idaho for a year apiece. He later played semi-pro football for eight years as a safety in stints with the Wenatchee Valley Rams, Palouse Thunder and Bellingham Bulldogs, all of the Greater Northwest Football Association.

He began coaching Sweet Home football last season as the defensive-backs and junior-varsity coach. He also helms the high school’s forestry team, which participates in competitions.

Manley and his wife Miranda have two daughters, Abigail, 8, and Eleanor, 5, who both attend Foster Elementary School.

The “Manley Jobs” series was born when Manley and Sweet Home High School Principal Ralph Brown came up with the idea of shooting videos with cellphones and a GoPro. However, after the first one, he said, “it wasn’t good enough.”

“So then we started getting more equipment, but with that came more time. Now it takes quite a bit of time to put them together. We started by asking, ‘What’s going to benefit my kids at Sweet Home?’ That’s why we did a fishing guide (episode). Kids love to fish.

And we did logging for three episodes – it’s everywhere around us. And a small family farm – there’s hundreds of those.”

Then the films found a wider audience and were used by 11 schools by the end of the year, Manley said. So he now has to think about subjects for subsequent videos.

“As it becomes more popular, the question is, who do we feature, and why?” he said. “And if I don’t have a good reason for those two questions, we’re on the wrong person. We have to think about who we highlight as a company, and also who we follow within that individual company.”

Sometimes, deciding on individual profiles is tough.

“They’ve got to be fairly good on camera, be able to talk well, and be able to explain their career well. And you don’t always know that going in,” he said.

His most recent video premiered three months ago, but Manley and cameraman/video editor Ramil Malabago have been working hard to create content this summer. Four videos are currently in the works, showcasing careers at Knife River Corporation, Pacific Power, Oregon Freeze Dry and a montage of different forestry jobs.

The Knife River video is scheduled to be posted next.

“Knife River has been really fun, even though it has been challenging because they are so big,” Manley said. “But it’s really good.”

He said it’s “outside the bubble” compared to the channel’s other videos.

“It’s concrete and aggregate rock,” he noted. “It’s a lot different. But still good jobs. Super jobs.”

“I don’t want to just tell a story,” Manley said of his content. “I want to try to give these kids a skill set that they can go do something with. Some of those jobs may not be the top-paying jobs, but it’s something they can do.”

One episode already on Youtube focuses on Eagle Carriage & Machine Inc., a metal fabricator in La Grande, a six-hour-plus drive from Sweet Home. Manley grew up about 17 miles west of that city, and Eagle Carriage’s owner’s daughter, Kelsey Wright, graduated in his year from the same high school as Manley. Additionally, one of his best high school friends is a lead machinist at the organization. Eagle Carriage representatives contacted Manley after the first few episodes on his channel and asked if he’d be interested in showcasing their company.

The video chronicling log-truck drivers stands apart from the others, with more than 363,000 views. Why did that particular episode take off like it did?

“Luck,” Manley replied with a smile. “We’ve learned more and more about Youtube. The log-truck video was shared to the right people at the right time. And then they shared it. And then it got shared to the Western Log Trucker Facebook page. So then all of them watched it. Then it hit the magic number, whatever it is, and then YouTube started using it as a preferred video. And so anyone that watched anything on logging or log truck driving or anything like that, all of a sudden this is the video that’s popping up.”

For a two-week period, the video received between 8,000 and 15,000 views a day.

Manley contracted with the Oregon Logging Conference for two videos following its cancellation this year due to COVID-19. The organization wanted to do something different for its “student day,” which typically brings about 700 or 800 students annually to Eugene to learn about logging-related careers.

“So they thought the next best thing was to do a video and send it out,” Manley said.

The OLC helped produce the videos by paying Manley and Malabago overtime to assemble the films during weekends and non-school hours.

When asked what people most appreciate about the series, Manley said the presentations “show what the job looks like without it being boring. It’s not [Discovery Channel’s] ‘Dirty Jobs.’ That’s not the goal.

“I don’t want to be [host] Mike Rowe. But I’d like Mike Rowe’s paycheck,” he added with a laugh. “He’s actually doing the job, and that’s not what I’m doing. I want to focus on the person doing the job, and show what they’re doing.”

Manley does all of the outreach, politicking and consideration for the videos, he says. Malabago’s responsible for all of the filming and editing.

Plans are underway for more “Manley Job” episodes.

“There’s no shortage of people that want them,” he said. “We have businesses reaching out to us all the time that would like to be featured. Because their business is shown in a good light, and right now there’s a massive shortage of employees, like we’ve never seen. Everyone’s trying to get that upper hand.”