Retired 72-year-old motorcycle enthusiast graduates from Washtenaw Community College
Seventy-two-year-old Tom Zempel stands next to his Harley Davidson. Tom will be receiving an associate's degree in motorcycle service technology Saturday form WCC. Courtney Sacco I AnnArbor.com
When Ann Arbor resident Tom Zempel walked across the stage at the Washtenaw Community College graduation Saturday, he was graduating as more than the typical 20-something student with a certificate in motorcycle service technology. As a retired 72-year-old, Zempel also was the oldest of the 1,825 Washtenaw Community College students scheduled to receive certificates or degrees.
Inspired by a friend who was taking courses in photography and history at WCC, Zempel decided to follow suit and take advantage of the free courses the college offers to those 65 years and older.
Motivated by his desire to continue learning throughout his life, the father of three, grandfather of five, and great-grandfather of one said he had the time and drive to go back to school. First on Zempel's agenda was a course in sign language to improve his communication skills.
“I took the class because I have a son that’s deaf and I thought it would help me be able to communicate better with him. I really enjoyed it and that led me to take other classes in the Life Learning area,” Zempel said.
After dabbling in a variety of courses — including Mediterranean cooking and health — Zempel eventually decided to revisit an old passion and entered into a two-and-a-half-year program in motorcycle service technology, which is what he left commencement with. Though he had never owned a motorcycle, he took the leap and bought a Honda CBR 250 in 2008.
WCC even helped him learn to ride his Honda as well as obtain a license for it with a basic rider course.
“I liked the class so much that I took a more advanced course and somewhere in there I learned about other courses which led me to the motorcycle program,” Zempel said. “I had already taken a welding class, which fit in to the program as well.”
Having joined the Navy in 1959 and receiving extensive training in welding, Zempel's background combined with his love of motorcycles proved to be a perfect fit for the motorcycle service technology program.
“I was just happy to go and I was learning something every class,” Zempel said. “I just really enjoyed it. I wish that when I was younger I had paid that much attention to what I was learning. I wish I could have been a part of the program earlier in life.”
With the certificate, Zempel is now qualified to build custom bikes, upgrade bikes, or work in a motorcycle shop, but he said he is hesitant to search for work.
“I’m not really looking for work. It is more for my own satisfaction and so I can work on my own bikes," he said. "The classes were just kind of a goal for me to finish. I just really enjoy working on bikes and who knows what will happen down the road — maybe I’ll end up doing part-time.”
Following his graduation, Zempel plans to continue taking courses at WCC in addition to working on his two bikes: a Harley 1200CC Sportster, which he bought so his wife, Shirley, could ride with him and a Softail Heritage.
“I want to keep my foot in the door," Zempel said. "As a student you have access to lab time and other resources. I want to continue to learn. I want to keep my mind sharp."