88-year-old MATC student ready to put on the brakes

Greenfield resident had taken automotive classes for 22 years

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

May 19, 2022

OAK CREEK – Keep moving. Keep dreaming. Keep learning.

The simple keys to life, courtesy of 88-year-old Greenfield resident Bob DuKatz.

DuKatz has kept spry by exercising every day at 6 a.m., thinking about spending a week in Maine eating seafood every day, and taking automotive program classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Oak Creek Campus for the past 22 years.

In April, the Oak Creek Campus Climate Committee and the Office of Student Life honored DuKatz with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a celebration of students aged 50 years and older.  

This spring marked the last semester DuKatz will spend at MATC. His eyes, hands and spirit are all still willing, but his legs are getting a little wobbly, he said.

“It’s been a really wonderful time,” said DuKatz, who built transformers and repaired hoists and cranes for 35 years before retiring in 1999. “The teachers here have been really great to me.”

And DuKatz has been great for the program. With a half century of mechanical and automotive acumen in his head and at his fingertips, DuKatz has served as a valuable resource for instructors and students in auto collision technician courses.

MATC’s auto collision repair program teaches students how to straighten damaged sheet metal, refinish automobile body parts, replace non-structural panels and parts, and perform collision repair welding procedures. 

“I try to help out,” DuKatz said, who has a quick smile and easy laugh. “If someone has a question I can answer, I answer it. If they need me to help untighten a bolt, I can do that. I do whatever I can.”

He has helped hundreds of graduates prepare to work at automobile dealerships, independent body shops, specialized shops and franchise repair garages. 

“I think MATC is really doing a great job with these students,” DuKatz said. “They seem to be able to get out there, get a job pretty quick and blend right in.” 

“Bob would do almost anything for you and he has done a lot for MATC,” said Matt Kruegel, instructional chair of MATC’s automotive repair and collision services program. “Many students here have reaped the rewards of his expertise.”

His expertise goes back nearly eight decades. When he was 13, his parents bought him a 1939 Chevy four-door sedan to tinker with. He wasn’t old enough to drive it, but he could work on it. 

“I’ve been doing things with my hands nearly my whole life,” DuKatz said. 

DuKatz was born in Milwaukee, then lived in California for several years before joining the U.S. Army. He served three years, traveling to Germany and France while working in the construction corps building aircraft runways and other utilities.

He returned to Wisconsin, took a job at an electric motor shop and worked for almost 40 years. In 1998, a year before he retired, he took an auto body repair course at MATC. He took another class after, and then another. He credited long-time teacher Jack Jaeger with providing high-quality instruction and keeping him interested in taking classes. Soon DuKatz was a fixture in the program.

To honor his contributions, the college unofficially named the southeast corner of the auto repair workshop “Bob’s Corner.” In April, Kruegel and Becky Alsup, dean of MATC’s Manufacturing, Construction & Transportation pathway, presented the banner that now hangs in the shop.

“He’s pretty amazing,” said Donald Runte, an auto collision repair instructor. “I think we all wish we can be like Bob when we get to that age.”

Older students – sometimes called seasoned students by educational experts – are a vital part of any classroom, said MATC human services instructor Domaz Wellington at DuKatz’s April celebration. 

“They expand diversity, offer experience and knowledge, provide a social space and help prepare other students for a diverse workplace,” Wellington said. 

When he wasn’t at MATC, DuKatz worked on various projects in his garage at home. He also collects antique watch fobs, travels and spends time with his wife of 64 years, Roseann, his four children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“Many people 50 or older are not ready to just retire, sit at home and do nothing,” said Amber Miller, AARP Wisconsin associate state director of community outreach. “They still have so much life in front of them. Age should never be a roadblock to pursue your dreams.”

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.