Taking a shot: UWGB student celebrates his 80th birthday with class

"When you stop learning, you get old," Randy Ryioti said, "and I'm not getting old."
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 6:24 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “When you stop learning, you get old,” Randy Ryoti said, “and I’m not getting old.”

Truer words have never been spoken for Ryoti, who turned 80. “That’s my motto. Just adopted it.”

He’s auditing a photography class at 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.

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 pies to celebrate.”

A celebration among friends, or who he likes to call kids. “When you are 80, they are kids.”

Every Tuesday, Ryoti joins UWGB students for an Introduction to Photography class. “I want the same skill digitally that I had in film,” he explains.

Ryoti is proficient in film. He was an Army photographer stationed in Germany for 3 years. When he returned home, he opened his own photography business.

But that hustle and bustle started to take a toll on his love for photography, so at 50 years old he closed his business and opened a new one in Brillion. “Came down to Brillion, bought the old post office and opened a pizza shop.”

This past August, he sold it. He decided to try photography again but a lot has changed in those decades away from the camera. “So I had to find some place that would bring me from film to digital and bring me out of Dark Ages to 21st century.”

Ryoti asked to audit Sarah Detweiler’s class at UWGB.

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

That attitude 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, who’s majoring in marketing and management.

Ryoti is even an inspiration to others, like 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 laughed.

See says Ryoti gives her hope for her own future. “If he can do it, I can do it.”

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

And it certainly isn’t for Ryoti.

“I am not tired, no no. Just catching my wind. Sprint ‘til 80 then stretch it out for the home stretch,” he said.

When asked what is the best picture he’s ever taken? “The next one,” he answers. “I haven’t taken it yet.”

He also hasn’t celebrated his best birthday just yet. “I got time. I am only 80. I figure I can make it to 90, 95. Why put a time limit on it?”

Plus, he says, cameras these days have automatic focus. “So you don’t have to have that sharp of eyes,” he laughed.

But this time around, Ryoti will be taking photos for the love of taking photos. And he hopes his classmates find that purpose, too, even if it takes a few more classes. “I signed up for second semester,” he told us. “I am coming back.”

“My good ol’ days are tomorrow, and the day after, and I am going to continue making ‘em.”