David Stone is not your typical college student. He has over 120 credits from five different institutions. His graying hair, white washed jeans and Tony Stewart racing jacket hint that he is double the age of his classmates. Stone is a 46-year-old sophomore at Castleton State College who graduated from high school in 1982 and enrolled in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I dropped out before I even started,” Stone said. “I wasn’t ready for that kind of transition.”
He tried college next and began classes at Castleton in the spring of ’83 only to call it quits after his first semester.
For the next two years, Stone didn’t really have a plan. He would seek adventure wherever he could find it. He woke up one morning and decided he was going to visit a friend in West Virginia.
He rode his bicycle for the entire 777-mile journey.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said with a smile.
Stone’s former co-worker from the 99 Restaurant, Kayla Aguiar, said she always sees Stone riding his bike around Rutland.
“I remember driving to work one day and seeing David in full uniform on a low rider tricycle,” she said giggling. “That’s just the way he is, you never know what he’ll be doing or where you will see him.
Another former co-worker, Robert Gladding, describes Stone as always having a big smile.
But Gladding said Stone has a quirky side, too.
“For some reason, he always spoke to guests with a British accent. He would just start talking British all of a sudden,” he said imitating the accent. “He is just a random kind of guy.”
Stone sips from his 22oz. hazelnut coffee until there is none left. He shakes the paper cup when it’s gone, hoping to find a drop left in the bottom.
His struggle to make ends meet as a waiter at Friendly’s forced him to reconsider the military in 1985. He chose the Air Force.
“Wearing combat boots was the hardest part about being in the military,” he said. “Combat boots and my feet never got along well.”
The Air Force took Stone to Okinawa, Japan where he spent three years and 4 months. While in Japan in 1986, he married his girlfriend from the States, a marriage that lasted two short years.
“I don’t even really remember her,” he said. “That was so long ago.”
In 1988, Stone was stationed in Utah where he met his second wife, resulting in a 17-year marriage that ended in divorce. At this time Stone made the difficult decision to move back to Vermont and leave his two sons Matthew, 19 and Mark, 18 in Utah with their mother.
“We moved to possibly the worst school system on earth,” Matthew Stone said recalling his relocation after his parents divorce.
“I was 15 at the time and the whole being the man of the family was somewhat of a burden,” he said.
Matthew Stone said his dad has always had an interest in computers, a passion they share.
“I remember him teaching me everything I know about computers as a kid,” he said. “I think my dad will eventually own a small business involving computers.”
Stone now lives in a small two-bedroom apartment in Rutland. His former girlfriend’s 23-year-old son is his roommate. His oversized HP laptop sits on the kitchen counter, waiting for him to complete his unfinished school work.
He is back at Castleton, but this time he is here to finish. New changes to the GI Bill made is possible for Stone to complete his education and still be “able to live.”
His apartment is up a flight of stairs, at the top of which sits a planter pot with four cigarette butts. Once inside, there are seven more stairs to climb, each with a small piece of gray carpeting covering them. A dart board with every dart in the bulls’ eye hangs from the wall. Stone rocks back in forth in his recliner with a small pillow behind his head.
In Stone’s living room there is a flat screen TV, but it isn’t on. Pieces of a mountain bike sit on the living room floor waiting to be put back together and taken out on the road. A folded up treadmill collects dust in the corner.
Stone admits his favorite part about being back in school is that he gets to sing in the choir.
He loves to sing.
He performs karaoke numbers at local bars like 3 D’s, Chasers and the Hilltop Tavern on a weekly basis.
“I like 80’s stuff, Journey, Phil Collins and Brian Adams” he said. “I sing just about anything, if I know it I’ll try it.”
Stone’s choir director, Professor Sherrill Blodget, says his love for music is no secret.
“I can see it when he’s singing,” she said. “He has tried out for a couple solos and it’s evident there, too.”
Blodget added that Stone is a great student who she enjoys having in class.
“I think David came back with a vast appreciation for what he could learn,” she said.
Gladding said he is happy for Stone, giving college another shot.
“I think it’s great that he can go back to school to better his life,” he said. “People who served our country deserve that.”
Stone admits that he is much more disciplined now than he ever has been. Getting his degree in business is the next thing on his agenda.
“I have all A’s so far,” he said with a chuckle.
“My Air Force instructor always told me ‘It doesn’t matter whether you get your boots all trashed one day, when you show up for work the next morning they need to be shiny and polished.'” Stone said. “I took that to mean do your best at everything and don’t give excuses.