80-year-old photography student inspires class on his birthday

Randy Ryoti celebrates his 80th birthday with other students in the photography class at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. (Source: WBAY)
Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 5:20 PM EST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY/Gray News) - An 80-year-old student at a Wisconsin college with a love for photography celebrated his birthday with his class.

Randy Ryoti is not your usual college student and said he lives by his own motto.

“When you stop learning, you get old, and I’m not getting old,” Ryoti said.

Truer words have never been spoken for Ryoti, who recently turned 80.

Ryoti is auditing a photography class at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. But it turns out he’s not the only one learning. He’s also an inspiration to many in the class.

Ryoti said, when it comes to your birthday, no matter which one, there’s an unspoken rule.

“On your birthday you bring treats, so I brought a couple of pies to celebrate,” Ryoti said.

It’s a celebration among friends or fellow classmates he likes to call kids.

“When you are 80, they are kids,” he said.

Every Tuesday, Ryoti joins his fellow students for an Introduction to Photography class.

“I want the same skill digitally that I had in film,” he said.

Ryoti is proficient in film. He was an Army photographer stationed in Germany for three years. When he returned home from service, he opened his own photography business.

He said the hustle and bustle of his business started to take a toll on his love for photography, however, at 50 years old he closed his business and opened a new one.

Ryoti said he bought an old post office in Brillion, Wisconsin, and opened a pizza shop.

But Ryoti is always on the move. This past August, he sold his pizza shop and decided to try photography again. However, a lot has changed in those decades away from the camera.

“So I had to find someplace that would bring me from film to digital and bring me out of the Dark Ages to the 21st century,” Ryoti said.

Ryoti asked to audit professor Sarah Detweiler’s class at the university.

“I was like, ‘What the heck,’ then he told me how old he was and I was like, ‘Well, here we go,’” she said. “Because he had such a great attitude, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Ryoti has a good attitude and he comes to class every week. Even fellow students can feel his love for photography.

“I think of the quote, ‘If it excites me, then I will take a good photo.’ He gets so excited and ready to see the whole process all the way through,” said junior Abby Rush.

Ryoti acts as an inspiration to others, including Monica Lee, a student returning to finish her art degree.

“When I walked in the first day, I was like, ‘Sweet, I’m not the oldest one here,’” she said.

Lee said Ryoti gives her hope for her own future.

“He teaches all of us you are never too old to learn something new. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” Detweiler said.

And it certainly isn’t over for Ryoti.

“I am not tired. No, I’m just catching my wind. Stretching out for the home stretch,” he said.

Following the photo class, Ryoti said he will be taking photos for the love of taking photos. He hopes his classmates find that purpose too, even if it takes a few more classes.

“I signed up for the second semester,” he said. “I am coming back. My good days are tomorrow, and the day after, and I am going to continue making them.”