He’s graduating with honors — at age 73Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, never met Dewey Pihlman.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News Chronicle
Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, never met Dewey Pihlman.
The 73-year-old Gunflint Trail man, who has spent the past 50 years working in the tool and die trade, graduated Monday with honors from Lake Superior College in Duluth with an associate’s degree in computer design engineering and machine technology.
But unlike many older graduates, earning his degree wasn’t just something Pihlman did to keep busy in retirement or to fulfill a lifelong dream. He plans to put his degree to use.
“I’m going to do my own job search,” said Pihlman, who is polishing off his résumé. “I want to find an exciting job where I’m going to want to be at work every day.”
Pihlman, who sports a full head of hair, a long ponytail and a rugged, gray beard, said he’s the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college.
The Navy veteran operated his own tool and die company in the Twin Cities for more than 30 years. He worked with countless companies to develop custom machine tools and molds used to manufacture various products.
Among his more notable works, Pihlman said he created integrated circuits for pacemakers and developed a tool that was used to manufacture the center power button on the Xbox 360 controller.
“I’ve had so many successes and they are so much fun,” he said. “Money doesn’t mean anything. It’s about what I could contribute.”
However, economic conditions led to Pihlman closing shop in 2003.
“I had planned to retire from my company,” he said. “I wanted to keep it running and sell it to someone else.”
Although he continued to do some freelance work, Pihlman said he ended up selling many of his machines “for a nickel on the dollar.”
He decided to make his family cabin, located at the western end of the Gunflint Trail, his permanent home. However, Pihlman said he was left with a desire to get back into the shop.
He went to Cook County Higher Education to learn about ways to further his education. Deciding that online classes weren’t right for him, Pihlman took an interest in LSC.
“Lake Superior College came up, and being born in Duluth and growing up around Lake Superior College, the name just attracted me,” he said.
Pihlman, who is divorced and has two adult daughters, said his family was shocked by, yet supportive of, his decision to attend college.
“I called up my daughter in Michigan and told her about it,” he said. “That was a big forehead-slapper for her. But my family has been great and encouraged me the whole way.”
Pihlman started at LSC in January 2011. Rather than making the nearly four-hour drive from his home, he rented an apartment in Superior.
Already having an extensive background in machine technology, Pihlman tested out of some introductory classes.
“It’s been different; it’s been a change,” said Max Udovich, a machine technology instructor. “I’ve learned things from him, with all of his experience.”
For Pihlman, the biggest challenge was transferring his half-century of experience to computers. Machine technology has rapidly evolved over the past few years, he said, and he had to learn to adapt to new computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
“There’s been a huge change in equipment in just the last five years,” Pihlman said. “It’s advanced greatly.”
Earning his associate’s degree required Pihlman to also take general classes in areas such as art, math and history, which he said was a good experience.
Natalie Bothwell, a communications instructor, taught two courses that Pihlman took.
“He offered a perspective that we don’t often hear about,” she said. “He always comes well-prepared and takes things seriously. I think nontraditional students like him realize the importance of education.”
Pihlman had nothing but good things to say about his instructors and LSC staff.
“I’m going to miss coming to class every day,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without everyone at the college. The instructors and staff have been absolutely amazing to me.”
Pihlman said he hopes his degree will allow him to work on projects that were not possible for him before. He said he’d like to get hired as a consultant, where he can oversee every aspect of a project, from an idea to reality, whereas in the past he has been limited to one aspect of the project.
While it’s not typical for people his age to be entering the workforce out of college, Pihlman said he feels confident.
“He’ll have good opportunities,” Udovich said. “He’s got a background in molding and now he’s adding CNC to his background as well. He has a solid résumé.”
But even if his dream doesn’t work out as planned, Pihlman said the college experience has been well worth it.
“Planning the trip is half the fun” he said. “Even if I don’t get where I want to be, I at least had fun plan