78-Year-Old Graduate, Veteran Brings History to Life in the Classroom
April 29, 2022
Area of study: History – Secondary Teaching Concentration
When newly minted teacher Kent Trompeter steps into his classroom to teach in the fall, he’ll be bringing with him a lifetime of experiences – and stories – that not every 2022 college graduate can match.
After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Secondary Education and History, the 78-year-old Air Force Veteran will begin teaching eighth, ninth and 10th graders in the rural town of Oakley, Kansas.
When it came to deciding to be a teacher at an age when many of his peers are well into retirement, he says it was an easy decision. And, with his love for history, he knew what he wanted to teach.
“I like working,” he says. “And I figured with all my travels and every place I’ve been and the things I’ve done, that maybe I ought to share that. I was born in 1943. I remember Eisenhower and every president since. I was in Germany when the wall came down. I spent a year in South Korea. I was in Tehran when the Shah was still in power, and when the Shah left and the Ayatollah took over.”
Trompeter’s travels began when he joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in Peoria, Ill. in 1962. Throughout the 14 years he spent in the service, he lived everywhere from Texas and Florida to Turkey and Germany. Along the way, he met his wife, Faye, and they married in 1965 and had two children (Michael and Andrea).
When Trompeter decided to leave the Air Force in 1977, he took a computer programming position with a small company in Illinois and took classes at a couple technical schools in California. He later took a position with Martin Marietta Corporation, in Slidell, La., working in space systems within the NASA complex.
“Martin was building the external tank for the space shuttle,” explains Trompeter. “I was there for eight years, and I was there when the Challenger exploded. That was it – changes were being made, we could see the handwriting on the wall, they weren’t going to build any more shuttles.”
After four years working in a contract position in Syracuse, N.Y., he decided to start his own business doing contract work around the country for different companies. But when he had a heart attack at the age of 58, Trompeter made a life change that would send him and Faye traveling again – this time not across a continent, but an ocean.
Trompeter retired and the couple moved to Clearwater, Fla., where they bought a 36-foot sailboat named “Southern Mist” and began a 10-year journey around the Caribbean. He earned a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license, in addition to his existing pilot’s license.
He and his wife sailed to Puerto Rico, St. Martin’s, Montserrat, Dominica, the Grenadines, Trinidad and Jamaica. The couple spent five years with Guatemala as a home base during hurricane season and from January to June sailed to Honduras, Belize and Mexico.
His favorite spot? A small island in the Grenadines named Bequia.
“Oh, there’s a small French bakery there, and we’d go in the morning and have the greatest coffee and fresh croissants. And the water was just so blue. Bequia’s my spot,” he says. “But sailing is not for the weak of heart because of all the work on the boat. It’s a constant maintenance thing – just a fact of life with boats. It’s like having an old house – there’s always something.”
"Southern Mist" in Grenada in 2006
Kent Trompeter sight seeing in Isla Mujerres, Mexico
"Southern Mist" in Belize
Kent Trompeter's view while traveling in Roatán
Ten years ago, he and his wife sailed to St. Petersburg, Fla., where a friend of his owned a sailing school. He taught sailing for about four years, until his friend sold the school, then worked with another friend who owned a tax business.
Then, the Trompeters left Florida and moved to Colorado to be closer to their children.
“We decided we’d move back here and hang out with the grandkids, who were in middle school,” he says. “Now, both grandkids are grown. Our granddaughter is married, and we have a great-grandson. Our grandson hasn’t figured out what he wants to do with his life. I said, ‘Well that’s fine, I haven’t figured out what I want to do with mine either.’”
But he did know he wanted to earn a degree.
“I’ve always loved history – I’ve lived it,” he says.
He went to Front Range Community College for two years to complete some core credits, then applied to and was accepted by another university, but when he wanted to speak to someone about enrolling he found their response unhelpful.
“I went home and I applied to UNC. I called and said I wanted to talk to the chair of the History department. They gave me Dr. Fritz Fischer’s email. I sent him an email and he replied, ‘Come and see me.’ So, I came in, and he explained everything to me immediately. I probably spent an hour with him.”
He left Fischer’s office knowing he wanted to get his degree at UNC.
“It was fun. I really have a great relationship with all the students,” he says. “One guy calls me Dad and I call him son. We share a lot. I was able to share information they didn’t know. It’s like when they teach about World War II and the Battle of Okinawa, and I bring up Google Earth and say, ‘All right. See that shadow? That’s a gun barrel. It’s fixed in place and it’s pointing this way. We landed over here. That gun was never fired in anger. That’s not in your history book.’ I tell them I learned to fly there.”
And when it came time to step into the classroom at Greeley’s University High School as a student teacher, Trompeter said it felt right.
“There was no doubt,” he says. “I stepped into it and it was like, ‘Hell, I’ve been here all my life.’ Fritz was my advisor during my last semester of student teaching at University High School and he’s sat in on my classes. He says, ‘You’ve definitely got the dad thing down, you really do. Because they love hearing your stories.’”
And it’s those stories and his lifetime of experiences he’ll be sharing with his students in Oakley. “It’s having been there that makes it so interesting. I really enjoy history. I’ve been to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” he says and then adds, “Did you know that when you get to the side it’s leaning on, the stairs get easier, but when you get around to the other side the stairs get harder? Nobody ever thinks about that.”
‐ written by Debbie Moors