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January 1, 2012

Snyder is example of lifelong learner

Ray Snyder is a perfect example of a lifelong learner.
He’s lived in many places and worked in a variety of occupations throughout his long life, and has always been in the personal or professional pursuit of knowledge.
Snyder, an 83-year-old teacher, pilot, flight instructor, automotive and airline mechanic, and a dedicated hobbyist, has enrolled in almost every automotive technology class that Central Wyoming College has offered in the past decade.
In 2002 he bought a new Chevy pickup truck. “I don’t understand this thing,” Ray thought to himself. He decided then it was necessary to go back to school to learn the new technologies in the automotive industry.
The college waived many of the course prerequisites because of his past and vast knowledge. While in that first class, he overhauled an engine of a 1974 van, modifying the torque so the vehicle could pull heavy loads.
“He’s got a story for everything,” said CWC auto technology Professor Dudley Cole. “It’s amazing the kind of stuff he’s done in his lifetime.”
Ray worked in the automotive industry for decades mostly to hold him over until there was work in aviation. His father operated an airport near Redding, PA and Ray took his first flight as a 6-month old infant. At age 15, he had his first flying lesson and soloed just a year later.
In 1941, Ray’s father joined the civil service and worked as an aircraft mechanic near Wright Field, an airfield of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Ray said his father had the opportunity to meet aviation pioneer Orville Wright. The love for flying and tinkering on aircraft engines was passed on from father to son.
Before he entered the first grade, Ray’s toy was an old 1929 Dodge engine. He would use his father’s tools, take it apart and put it back together.
Already established as an automotive mechanic, Ray continued to hang out at airports hoping to advance his career into aviation. While watching a man put together a new engine    
for an airplane, Ray recognized the factory had switched the terminals. After that, he stopped by every couple of days and was allowed to fly in exchange for his mechanics work.
Ray eventually became a flight instructor and taught aviation maintenance technology at a vocational high school in Las Vegas. After retiring from teaching, Ray flew tourists over the Grand Canyon in twin engine planes, flying down into the outer gorge.
When it came time to retire again, Ray and his wife, Doris bought a boat and sailed the Pacific until they docked in Washington state. Tired of the heat in the desert, they considered relocating to Washington or Oregon and ended up in Lander 12 years ago where Ray had worked for a short time at the airport 50 years prior.
Though Ray takes a course or two each semester at Central, he’s also taught technical math and assisted in teaching automotive courses. “He just loves to learn,” Cole said of Snyder. “He’s what we all wish we could be.”
Though he’s much older than the other college students, Ray has taught them a thing or two about precision. Cole remembered a time in a class when he had the class take an engine apart and put them back together. Ray’s project was “perfect,” Cole said. “He is sharp as a tack.”
“He comes from an older era of automotive technology,” Cole said, “and he wants to learn about the new.”
This semester Ray is enrolled in Cole’s power sports course and is working on a four-wheeler. Last semester, Ray spent some time enhancing his 1993 Geo Metro, which now gets 54 miles per gallon.
Ray has a long to-do list in his shop at home. In addition to a single place (one seat) aerobatics airplane, he has another plane that is “not flyable” and a third that’s
in pieces that is crying to be rebuilt. “I have a lot of things to get accomplished,” he said, which includes improving his shooting skills on a 22 bench rest, another one of his many hobbies.
In addition to doing loop-d-loops over the Wind Rivers in his aerobatic aircraft, Ray has more than one thousand hours in glider and sail planes and is a member of the local experimental aircraft association. His flight instructor rating is not current though his pilot’s license is reviewed biannually and he does conduct annual inspections on experimental aircraft.
He’s also trained a few horses in his lifetime, though he just gave up riding a few years back.
Ray sums up his interest in classes by saying: “I think if you don’t increase your knowledge you’re to decrease your knowledge.”