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Hometown Hero: Tom Adams helps seniors upgrade tech skills

To say Tom Adams is a computer nerd is only part of it.

Tom Adams teaches a technology class on Friday at the Rochester Senior Center.

To say Tom Adams is a computer nerd is only part of it.

Adams has turned his life-long love of technology into his way of serving the community.

After retiring from IBM in 1998, Adams, 75, joined SeniorNet , an international organization that provides older adults education for and access to computer technologies.

For the past 15 years he's logged more than 500 volunteer hours a year as the group leader for the SeniorNet computer learning center at the Rochester Senior Center . Adams also volunteers at the Adult Detention Center teaching computer classes to the inmates once a month.

Behind her own computer is Adams' other love, his wife, Mary Pat Adams, a retired fourth-grade teacher who logs in almost as many volunteer hours for SeniorNet as he does.


"She's probably one of the best volunteers I've got," he said.

Together, they keep the computer lab at the senior center running on the latest technology and the 50 or so other volunteers up to date on how to use and teach it.

"It's important to keep up on the latest technology," he said.

To do so, the couple spends their own money to buy the latest devices, such as a laptop with Windows 8 and an iPhone, so they can play with it before having to teach it. During a recent trip to California to visit family, they also spent time upgrading their computer skills, with Mary Pat learning Windows 8 with her sister-in-law, and Tom using his downtime to write an iPad teaching manual.

"It takes a lot of time. First we need to train ourselves. It's not like we just know all this. We have to learn it too," Mary Pat Adams said.

Then they teach the approximately 50 SeniorNet volunteers, she said.

Learning new technology on his own has always been a part of Tom Adams' life.

When he was in fourth grade, he helped his father wire their Iowa farm house with electricity. Impressed with his son's skills, Adams' father brought him a broken record player, which Adams' figured out how to fix, he said.


His 34-year career with IBM started in Omaha as a field engineer. He would wear a suit and carry a tool kit to go out and fix computers. In 1972 he was transferred to Rochester to work as a programmer.

"When he started at IBM there was no such thing as computer science program in college," Mary Pat noted.

He's also learned that when it comes to technology, it doesn't hurt to ask.

When IBM celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2011, Adams said he got a call asking what he'd do with a $10,000 grant from the PC company. His response? Buy Apple equipment, he said.

The computer lab at the Senior Center had long used PCs, but more and more people were asking how to use Macs, especially iPads, Adams said.

Adams was told to submit his request, which he was surprised to have granted, he said.

Last year the lab added four Apple computers, two laptops, a Mac Mini and five iPads, he said. That means Adams has double the workload keeping it all going. Or as he see it, more to love.

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