By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
FRONTENAC, Kan. —
While checking motorcycle brake pads and fluids Thursday afternoon, students at the Harley-Davidson Technician Training Center got a visit by the head of state.
But Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback didn’t look out of place — he arrived on a motorcycle wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, boots and chaps.
The tour of the school was billed as the one non-political stop on a two-day, 11-stop motorcycle tour of Kansas by a Republican contingent that included U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Kansas’ 2nd District.
After beginning in Topeka, the group stopped in the eastern Kansas communities of Leawood, Fort Scott, Frontenac, Pittsburg and Columbus.
Today, the riders are scheduled to stop in Independence, Winfield, Wichita, Hays and Salina.
Neither Jenkins nor Brownback had ever seen the Harley-Davidson school, which is the only one of its kind in the Midwest.
“I would hope that our notoriety is such that they realized that they’d be coming right by here and wanted to stop,” said Clayton Tatro, president of Fort Scott Community College, which partnered with Harley-Davidson on the school. “It’s definitely got the motorcycle connection.”
Begun in 2004, the school still is in the infancy stage, Director Dwayne Hale told the group. But he’s pleased with enrollment, which continues to grow, and with a 100 percent placement rate.
“We have 40 students,” he said. “Our goal is to get everyone into a Harley-Davidson dealership. We want them to be able to wear many hats in the dealership.”
The school offers a two-year associate of applied science degree in motorcycle service technology. Graduates can expect to enter the work force with at least a starting salary of $12 to $15 an hour, Hale said.
During the school tour, Brownback visited privately with several students who were servicing motorcycles donated by Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Don Floro, 49, was among those who told the governor the center has been life-changing for him.
“I can’t get it done fast enough,” he said of his degree.
Floro, a U.S. Army veteran of 22 years, was disabled after tours in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. He moved to the area from Wakefield, Kan., to enroll through a veterans program that provides funding for vocational rehabilitation.
“I had driven by this facility before, but had not been in or through it,” Floro said. “It’s a great mixture of education, technology and jobs, and that’s what we need — people to get an education, in a high-tech field, that leads to a job.”.
Jenkins said she believed education is a “big part of peoples’ decisions to locate here in Kansas.”
“We were anxious to see what they do here so we can brag about it,” she said. “This school definitely is a feather in our cap.”
Following their stop at Harley-Davidson, the group encouraged a crowd of about 75 at the Pritchett Pavillion in Pittsburg, Kan., to support conservative candidates in Tuesday’s election. They finished the day by stumping in Columbus, Kan., and Independence, Kan.
Brownback is riding the two-day tour on a 2002 Pro-Sport motorcycle made in Wichita. Jenkins and a few other officials are traveling by car. The trip is being paid for by campaigns or the state GOP, officials said.