May 11, 2011

Student for 20 years

When he turns 86 in June, Lester Netley of rural Pine River will have been a student at Central Lakes College in Brainerd for 20 years. He never intends to graduate. He doesn’t keep track of credits, because he’s here for the joy of machining and enrichment. College Registrar Nick Heisserer reports Lester has completed 160 credits, the equivalent of more than two associate degrees. The retired machinist last worked a real job in 1988, leaving after 36 years with Northern Pump Co, a Naval ordnance factory in Fridley. By 1991 he had found his way to family property near Whitefish Lake in Cass County and also found the college. Within a year he registered for the first in a string of open welding labs. He splits his time nowadays between welding and a small-engine lab. Machines have always been part of his life. His tinkering continues to this day on equipment of various sizes, from a tractor to a one-cylinder Maytag washing machine engine. The 1930-vintage “one-lunger” has a fresh coat of green paint and may be long-gone from original purpose but has been mounted on other platforms to power such things as go-carts. What does he do at CLC? He helps younger students who are unfamiliar with some of the older, enduring machines showing up for repair. He likes attending what he calls “a highly rated college” and finds the younger students to be likable and willing to let a grandfatherly figure hang out with them. Such dedication warranted designating a portion of the welding lab as “Les’s Machine Room.”
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