Students Restore Classic Cars at Gilmore Garage

Saying you’ve worked at one of the top car museums in the country is impressive, especially if you’re still a high school student. Thornapple Kellogg students can do just that through a partnership with the Gilmore Car Museum.

At an afterschool program working with volunteers at the museum in Hickory Corners, students are restoring old cars which eventually will go in the museum.

Earlier this year, a team of four students were removing the fabric from inside the door of a 1926 Buick. Each piece taken off was carefully kept track of so things could go back together right.

“It’s been a lot of fun working on it,” says sophomore participant John Carpenter. “I got to see it evolve.”Students work on a 1926 Buick

Jerry Morrissey, who directs the student program, sees it as a good opportunity for students to work with their hands and see if they like it or not. He feels it’s important to provide the opportunity since shop classes are no longer offered at most schools. “Our goal is to have the kids do the work,” he says.

The program is about six years old and meets twice a week. The number of students varies. About four students participated during the 2013-14 school from Thornapple Kellogg High School, plus students from three Barry County schools. Numerous volunteers create what’s nearly a one-on-one mentorship. “We’re blessed with mentors who have skills to do most everything on a car,” Morrissey says. “For us, the most important thing is to provide guidance and lessons and learning for the students.”

Tony Koski, principal of Thornapple Kellogg High School, got the partnership going. “It’s guys who love cars and love kids,” he says, adding one day he’d like to see it counted as class credit. “I’m not a car guy,” he says. “I’m a student guy.”

He thinks it’s perfect for students who aren’t into other activities at school. “I can see some of the kids grow who might have had problems with attendance,” he says. “They learn hard work and how to be a team member.”

The Thornapple Kellogg students participating all seem to have cars in their blood. Tristin Stickney’s dad and uncles have always restored cars. John Carpenter’s father owns a hydraulic shop. Jim Timm wants to open a body shop someday.

Pieces of the 1926 Buick’s door are carefully removed by Thornapple Kellogg student John CarpenterStudents work in the museum’s elaborate 10,000 square foot garage with everything in it to restore a car. On a day before summer recess, a 1931 Willys, a 1935 Packard, a 1923 Chandler and a 1965 Honda Baby Dream motorcycle were lined up to be restored.

Koski thinks the museum opportunity is wonderful, whether for someone who’s interested in opening a business or becoming an engineer.

“Our intent is not to turn out welders, painters or restoration professionals,” says Michael Spezia, Gilmore Museum executive director in a website statement, “but to introduce students to a unique environment and give them exposure to hands-on experiences that we hope will motivate them to pursue further education, training, and a career.”

Anonymous donors finance the program, and there is no cost for the students.

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Gilmore Car Museum

Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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