A Teacher’s Travels 

As newly minted teacher Kent Trompeter stepped into his classroom to teach this fall, he brought with him a lifetime of experiences — and stories — that not every 2022 college graduate can match. Trompeter graduated from UNC this past spring with a degree in History and Secondary Education. The 78-year-old began his teaching career with eighth, ninth and 10th graders in rural Oakley, Kansas. Here’s his story of the journey that led him to UNC and teaching. 

I joined the Air Force after graduating from a Peoria, Illinois high school in 1962. I spent more than 14 years in the service and lived in locations from Texas and Florida to Turkey and Germany. I met my wife and we had two children when we were in Florida. When we were stationed in Germany, we traveled extensively in Europe.     

I decided to leave the Air Force in 1977 and took a computer programming position with a small company in Illinois, then 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. I was there for eight years. And I was there when the Challenger exploded. And that was it — changes were being made, we could see the handwriting on the wall, they weren’t going to build any more shuttles. 

I started my own business doing contract work around the country for numerous companies. When I was 58, I had a heart attack. I retired and we moved to Clearwater, Florida and bought a 36-foot sailboat.  

I added a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license to my pilot’s license, and we sailed to Puerto Rico, St. Martins, Montserrat, Dominica, the Grenadines, Trinidad and Jamaica. We spent five years with Guatemala as a home base during hurricane season and January to June sailing to Honduras, Belize and Mexico. 

My favorite spot is a small island in the Grenadines named Bequia. 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. 

Sailing is not for the weak of heart because of work on the boat. It’s a constant maintenance thing — it’s just a fact of life with boats. It’s like having an old house — there’s always something. 

After 10 years we decided we’d move to Colorado and hang out with the grandkids, who were in middle school. Now, both grandkids are grown. Our granddaughter is married, and we have a great grandson.  

I like working. 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.  

I’ve always loved history — I’ve lived it. 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 really had a great relationship with all the students in my classes. One guy calls me Dad and I call him son. 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 told them I learned to fly there. 

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. 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.”  

—Kent Trompeter ’22, as told to Debbie Moors