Robert Speed, left, and his grandson Daniel Johnson are both receiving their GED diplomas after attending Hawkeye Community College's Metro Center in Waterloo, Iowa. Pictured Monday, May 23, 2011. (RICK CHASE / Courier Staff Photographer) RICK CHASE

WATERLOO --- Bob Speed is finally getting his GED, more than 50 years after dropping out of high school.

The 70-year-old Dunkerton man will be joined by his 21-year-old grandson, Danny Johnson, in receiving the GED diploma Thursday. They are among 154 people who have completed the program in the past year. Fifty-one others also are going through the graduation ceremony at Hawkeye Community College's Tama Hall. Two other family pairs have completed the GED in the past year, including a brother and sister and a mom and son.

Both men say the support of the other was necessary to get through their studies and pass the five General Educational Development tests required for the diploma. "I was the math teacher, he was the English teacher," Speed said, laughing. They also credited the help of long-time HCC Metro Center instructor Jeanie Steffey.

The two hatched the plan to earn GEDs after Johnson, a Minnesota native, moved in with his grandparents.

"Dan came to live with us in January," Speed said. "Grandma said, 'If you guys really aren't busy this winter, you should go down and get your GEDs.'"

Speed agreed, as long as Johnson joined him.

"I thought it would be a good opportunity for me and Grandpa to get it done," Johnson said.

The pair were so dedicated to their task from the time they started studying in February that their classmates called them "the twins."

"We went seven weeks and we went four hours a day, five days a week," Speed said. "We had a goal that we wanted to get done this year and make the graduation." Students had to pass the tests in math, science, history, reading and writing by May 10 to go through the ceremony.

Johnson said preparing for the tests was "a little nerve-wracking now and then. I struggled with the math part. I lost sleep over it, I'll tell you that."

"Reading and writing were my weakest points," Speed added. "It was a challenge to get it out, to get it on paper and do your best."

That didn't stop him from running a business for 35 years as a concrete contractor, which grew to 65 employees. "Whenever I wrote a letter for my business, I always had the secretary check it over to make sure the spelling was right," he said.

"Fifty-two years ago it was a lot easier without a GED than it is today," said Speed, who dropped out of Dunkerton High School. "You could pretty much get a job without a high school education at that time."

He got into the concrete business after five years of working at the Rath meat packing plant in Waterloo. Eventually, he relocated to Minneapolis, where his concrete business flourished for 30 years. Speed and his wife retired to Dunkerton in 2007.

Johnson knew he needed to make the time to get his GED.

"I've worked odd jobs, and I've found it's a lot easier to get your foot in the door with an education," he said.

Someday, Johnson hopes to train as a mechanic. For the time being, though, he's putting in applications for a job so he can start making money.

Speed said he felt a lot of self-satisfaction in completing his GED.

"I've always been kind of a self-motivated individual and I just finally got that part done," he said.


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