When CBS aired a story about a 79-year-old Ohio man earning his general equivalency diploma after years of trying, dozens of people nationwide called and wrote him to offer congratulations.
But only one offered Randy Wilt and his wife, Roberta, a vacation to reward a job well done. That was Cindy Thomas, manager of Stoneridge Resort in Blanchard, Idaho. This week, Thomas is hosting the Wilts at the resort – the culmination of a long-distance correspondence that began when Thomas saw Wilt’s story on the Jan. 23 evening news.
She wrote a letter of congratulations, and in exchange, Roberta Wilt invited Thomas to her husband’s June graduation party. Thomas couldn’t make it but wrote again, saying “If you are ever in Idaho, let me know and I will put you up in a vacation condo.”
The Wilts decided to take a long-desired cross-country train ride and arrived Sept. 10. Since then, they’ve been on a sightseeing whirlwind – from Green Bluff to Farragut State Park, Sandpoint to the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
“I just couldn’t believe anything like this was happening,” Randy Wilt said.
Wilt only completed seventh grade but had a successful career as an auto mechanic and eventually owned his own repair shop. He retired comfortably and never thought about completing his high school diploma until he applied for a part-time job and was told he wasn’t eligible without it.
Despite his limited schooling, the words of a teacher rang in his ears. In the third grade, he said, a teacher “informed me there is no such thing as ‘I can’t.’ It has always stuck with me. If somebody told me I can’t do something, I’m going to prove them wrong.”
So he started studying for the GED. Over the course of four years, he was knocked down by a hernia operation, heart problems, the loss of his left eye and his brother’s death. Still he kept studying and taking the test, repeatedly, until he finally passed.
Roberta Wilt choked up remembering Dec. 18, 2008, the day her husband learned he’d passed. They were at the hospital where her son was about to have colon surgery when Randy Wilt received the call on his cell phone. “I could see it on his face and that gleam in his eye,” Roberta Wilt said. Her son was lying in a hospital bed, but he smiled at his stepfather and gave him thumbs up.
The part-time job is long forgotten, but Wilt said being turned down for it was a blessing in disguise. He went on to complete a semester of college but now is turning his attention to refurbishing his 1840s-era home and to more traveling.
Thomas said the image of Wilt’s determination will stick with her. “I want people to be like Randy,” she said. “I think he’s a really good role model.”
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