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Back to school at 80

Cedar Mills man pursuing GED to ‘satisfy myself’

By Jamey Rosenau

People say things like, “We should get together more often,” or “Hey, let’s do this again soon,” but few actually follow through. For Sam Flom of Cedar Mills, following through is what he’s been waiting to do his entire life (80 years and counting). Now he’s putting that plan into action… he’s going back to school to get his GED!

Sam started taking adult education classes in December 2021 through the Glacial Lakes Consortium at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. After attending over 500 hours of instruction and countless other hours studying, memorizing, and researching, he’s on the brink of graduation.

Sam Flom of Cedar Mills sits with Barb Haugen, instructor at the Glacial Lakes Consortium at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, and works on some math problems. Flom is pursuing his GED, more than 60 years after he left school as a teenager to work/join the military. Sam hopes to pass his GED test in July. Photo by Jamey Rosenau

Why did he decide to go back to school at this stage of his life?

“I didn’t have to because I had already retired,” he said. “I didn’t have a diploma and I wanted to get that diploma. I’m just doing it now just to satisfy myself. When I get to heaven, I want to whisper in my mom’s ear that I did this.”

Sam is a bit of a celebrity at the college. Several teachers said he has had an amazingly positive impact on the program and his fellow classmates.

“The one thing that Sam says quite a bit is, ‘Of course I want to stick around’ and ‘I want to see what’s going to happen tomorrow,’ and that’s such a good attitude because so many are afraid of what may happen tomorrow,” said teacher Mary Horrocks.

Where might Sam receive his highest grade?

“Attitude is an A+, always positive!” said teacher Barb Haugen, who mentioned that Sam arrives early most days, even before the teachers, and some of the other students are also starting to come earlier.

“It’s that unseen curriculum,” said Barb. “They’re learning things without intentions when they talk to this guy (Sam) about being dedicated and attendance and all that. As we get older, we become jaded and think we don’t need to learn things or it’s not important, but he’s so curious and he’s eager to learn; I’ve learned that from him.”

But school does come with challenges.

“It’s tough,” he laughed. “It was easier back when I was a kid to do the math. That’s the toughest subject I’ve had so far -- math, and of course, English.”

Shari Brunes, Site Manager for Hutchinson Adult Education explained that only 60 percent of graduating high school seniors can pass the GED test. It is a formidable task and can be intimidating for some. High school teachers sometimes have the flexibility to pass a student with a D- grade if they determine a student tried hard but simply wasn’t good at a particular subject. Not the case with the GED test.

“When you take a test and it’s computerized, you either pass or you don’t,” said Shari.

Of course, Sam also has subjects in which he excels.

“Social Studies is one of my best,” he said. “I lived it, you know. I was thinking Social Studies was something that happened in the past. You know I was born in ’42, and they went back probably as far as 1930 so everything coming forward, I lived it, so I passed that one alright!”

Sam was born and raised on a farm with seven siblings on the Rice/Steele County line near Owatonna and Faribault.

“I’m the oldest of the youngest four,” said Sam, who was one of two kids born right on the farm. “I figure that in July, something happened that daddy was busy out in the field or something and that caused me to be born on the farm.”

Rather than finishing high school, Sam worked until he was 18, before enlisting with the United States Army.

How did he make that important decision to join the military?

“Well the only thing I can remember is something happened that I didn’t quite appreciate in school and I thought I was being a (wise guy) so I quit,” he said.

After several weeks in boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Sam received an honorable medical discharge due to some hearing problems and severe earaches. And once his time in the military ended, Sam started hauling canned milk.

“I weighed probably 120 pounds, and a can of milk weighed 120 pounds, but I got to the point where I was able to carry one in each hand,” he said. Eventually, he switched to a delivery job at the Clairemont Creamery, and later the Hutchinson Creamery. After all was said and done, Sam amassed 34½ years working in the creameries. He went on to work as a custodian/maintenance worker at the Howard Lake-Waverly School District.

“That was the most fun of my life,” he said. “I lost weight doing it and all that good stuff.”

Sam’s days of working full time ended following his days at the school, and he gratefully entered into retirement. It turns out Sam would never be happy just sitting around and relaxing. He has stayed plenty active. He was the Gambling Manager for American Legion Post 96 in Hutchinson for 37½ years, enjoys traveling with his son, and had been active in the Hutchinson Memorial Rifle Squad for more than 40 years before recently deciding it was time for him to move on.

“(The funerals) have been getting to a lot of people that I know personally, and it’s tough”, he said.

Sam’s goal was to participate in the Spring 2023 graduation ceremony. The only thing standing in his way were two final tests. Unfortunately, Sam came up just short on those tests. Answering just one more question correctly on one, and two more on the other, would’ve earned him passing grades. But Sam is determined. The teachers, staff, other students, and Sam himself all agree --- One key ingredient that Sam possesses is a positive attitude. Those last tests are already on Sam’s calendar for July—the soonest he could retake them. There’s no doubt his shining attitude will see him through and on to his next challenge.

After completing his GED, Sam plans to keep coming back to the Adult Education office to build his computer and technical skills. “I can do it, but I’m afraid I’m going to push the wrong button and hurt something,” he said.

Sam didn’t have to spend all those hours trying to achieve this great accomplishment. He didn’t need to do it. He did it because he wanted to, he wanted to keep improving himself, and he did it to explore his passion for lifelong learning.

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