Q&A: Dean Nickel and Vernon Kelley

Two experienced institutional locksmiths share there thoughts on their field and the upcoming Institutional Locksmiths Association National Educational Conference and Trade Show, planned Oct. 9-13 in Chicago

This October, institutional locksmiths from all over will congregate in Chicago for the 2007 Institutional Locksmiths Association National Educational Conference and Trade Show (www.ilanational.org). Show dates are Oct. 9-13 at the Holiday Inn Willowbrook.

I spoke with a couple of locksmiths about this event, one from the east coast and one from the west. Let's go left to right and begin with my dialogue with Dean Nickel of Seattle , Wash.

Nickel works at the Harborview Medical Center , a King County-owned facility for the critically injured and indigent population. The University of Washington runs the facility and has employed Nickel since November 1996. Here are Locksmith Ledger's questions and Nickel's answers.

What were you doing before you began working at your present job?

I was working for Argen's Lock and Safe in Seattle when I heard about the job. I found out it paid a bit more but that the benefits were much, much better than what I had at the time. I applied and was their second choice. It turned out that their first choice had leveraged this to get a raise at his current job so I was offered the job.

Are you happier doing this kind of locksmithing?

It has its good and bad days just like an outside locksmith. The good is that I don't have to worry about parts, tools or whether or not the client will pay. The bad in my case is that I have to deal with TB isolation rooms and labs.

How many years have you been working as an in-house locksmith?

I've been an in-house for more than 10 years and a locksmith in general for 17.

What are you looking forward to learning at this upcoming convention?

I'm not sure if I can make the convention this year as it is the same week as the PLA (Pacific Locksmith Association) conference where I've offered my services as an instructor.

Even though you're qualified to instruct, do you still take classes? What type of things do you still enjoy learning about?

Oh yes, I still take classes and I learn every time I teach. I actually learn more than when I take a class. I take classes because I find myself learning something new even if it's a class I've taken before. So let's say I take a master-keying class for the ninth time (yes, I've taken 8 so far). The instructor will bring something to the class that others haven't. Each of us teaches differently and this gives the students exposure to different ideas each time. I don't care too much about which class I take because I'm more interested in the journey itself. Although I haven't done automotive locksmithing for 10 years, I still want to learn; I may need it or have an opportunity to help someone else.

In the ILA newsletter, you wrote about your experience and mentioned that you were looking forward to buying people drinks until you realized that the food and drinks were already taken care of. How do you meet these people?

I meet most of them in online forums for locksmiths.

Do you find that you all have much in common? How about any glaring differences from different parts of the country?

There doesn't seem to be much of a difference between locksmiths around the world. We all have much of the same problems. I believe other locksmiths are our best hope for solving our own problems. In online forums I have the opportunity to meet people and help others while helping myself. Something simple like the bittings to a particular code, how to find parts for a lock made in another country, etc. I believe the computer is shrinking the differences between us reminds all of us that we are not alone.


I first met Vernon Kelley back in 1991 while he was working for a locksmith friend of mine. He was a rookie then and it's a real pleasure to see how far he's come and what he's accomplished in his career as a locksmith. Vernon was good enough to give me a little time for a sit down interview at his office at The College of New Jersey. Here are Ledger's questions and Kelley's answers.

Have you attended ILA conventions in the past?

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