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Alumni Spotlight: Randy Hoppe

August 30th, 2018

At age 53, Randy Hoppe has already reached a lifetime of achievements, but he is only now following a passion he’s held since high school: being a professional welder. Hoppe, who graduated from Loenbro Technical Institute in December 2017, is co-owner of Freedom Arc Welding & Fabrication. The route he followed, however, was filled with many fascinating diversions.

Hoppe, a Wyoming native, enjoyed his high school welding class, but he had an equal love for the United States Marine Corps. “I decided to join

Welding Program

rather than go to the welding school in Casper, Wyoming,” Hoppe says. “I wanted to explore the world.” From 1984-1988, Hoppe was a plane captain and power plants mechanic for fighter aircraft in the Marines.

He received additional training in Tennessee, where he earned an airframe and power plants license for working on commercial aircraft through the Federal Aviation Administration. By the time he got out of the Marine Corps, he had the necessary skills to work on commercial aircraft and began sending out résumés. “Within a very short period of time, I got hired on at Northwest Airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and worked for them for 17 years as an A&P (airframes and power plants) mechanic on the 747 fleet.”

Life changed dramatically for Hoppe in 2001 after a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. “After my accident, for the first few years I was just concentrating on physical therapy and doing all that I could to try to get upright and walking again,” he says, “but due to the nature of my injury, it probably isn’t going to happen.” He and his wife divorced soon after, and Northwest Airlines was bought out by Delta Air Lines.

With nothing keeping him in Minnesota, Hoppe decided to move to Rapid City, South Dakota, an area where he and his family had frequently vacationed. His new church was located near Loenbro, so he decided to check out the welding programs. “I met Tommy Myers, who is the certified welding inspector, and we just clicked when we talked,” Hoppe says. He and Myers discussed his welding plans and what he hoped to get out of the program. “I just wanted to take everything that I could take, so I took both the heavy structural and the pipe portions.”

After six months of Loenbro’s hands-on training — three in structural welding and three in pipe welding — Hoppe graduated with many certifications. “Tommy is an excellent instructor, and the school is just really awesome,” Hoppe says. “His one-on-one time with everybody is outstanding, and he spends the time making sure that you’re going to be set up when you’re done and certified that you’re ready to roll. You will know what you’re doing versus at a two-year college, when you’re spending a lot of time doing theory and virtually no welding.”

At Loenbro, welding students spend 98 percent of their time in the shop welding, but there is some classroom time devoted to theory. “Tommy treats it like a job, so you show up on time,” he continues.  “The expectation and those skill sets are there to perform as if you were on a job.”

Welding Program Rapid City

Even after graduation, Hoppe continued to spend time in the welding shop. “We kind of stretched things out because Tommy and I developed a friendship,” he says. “After I did graduate, I’d be down there every day anyhow, just trying to volunteer time, helping out if there were other students that needed help on certain things.” That’s when he met his business partner, Ryan Petroski. “Ryan just did the heavy structural part of the program, and I met him when he started,” he says. The two bonded because of their military backgrounds; Petroski is currently a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

Petroski recently visited Hoppe at home to look at a firepit he had built, and it was then that they decided to start a business called Freedom Arc. “Ryan pretty much came up with the Freedom Arc, so it’s a veteran-owned-and-operated business,” Hoppe says. They build custom firepits with detailed log sets, as well as one-of-a-kind rustic, industrial-designed tables — many made with steel and beetle-stained wood that cannot be used for construction. “It has a really beautiful bluish green on the inside, and that’s all cut open, so it just makes beautiful furniture pieces,” Hoppe says. Other pieces they produce include wine racks, barbed-wire art and horseshoe art, but they encourage people to bring in their ideas. “We can work with them and create whatever their plans or dreams are,” Hoppe says.

In addition to the customized work they’re doing, Hoppe says, “We can do heavy steel gussets for log home construction or any sort of industrial construction, as well as mobile welding services on heavy equipment, metal repair on big construction equipment, and hard facing on dozer blades and excavator buckets.”

Hoppe and Petroski are building up a good reputation for their work at Freedom Arc. Chris Stephens, host of the Discovery Channel’s Garage Rehab, asked them to do some welding at Jacobs Auto Repair in Sturgis, South Dakota. “They were filming us welding,” he says, “and we will be in that episode airing either August 15 or September 11.”

“We’re excited about [our business],” he adds, “and I’m sure things are going to pick up to where we need more help and more workspace and things like that.” Thanks to Loenbro’s training and personal initiative, the odds are in their favor.

According to O*NET OnLine, the demand for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers is expected to grow by up to 9 percent by 2026. With hands-on instruction from experienced welders, 10 welding certifications upon graduation, a great beginning wage (Myers says $17 to $21 an hour is average) and job placement assistance, Loenbro Technical Institute is a smart choice for welding training. Contact Loenbro Technical Institute today. New classes begin every two weeks.


Posted in: Welding

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