Levon Tarver looked a lot different. He had grown a foot taller, and he sported a full-blown Afro.
“How are you? ... And where’s Levon?” Sonny Reeves, his former high school automotive teacher, asked him jokingly last week when the two reunited after more than a year.
Tarver, a 2007 graduate of the Hutchings Career Center, left Macon and his after-school job at BMW of Macon to attend auto-diesel college and then a specialized school in Florida. When he left, he promised he’d return home to work one day.
And now he’s making good on his word.
While former co-workers greeted him and ribbed him about his hair, Tarver, now 20 and 6-foot-2, was unloading $12,000 worth of new tools he had just bought to help him in his new job.
Starting today, he’s BMW of Macon’s newest master service technician. He’ll earn at least $55,000 a year and could one day advance into auto design or become a field service technician, traveling the country to help stumped mechanics.
“I think he’s one of those good-luck stories where someone deserved a break, got a break and took advantage of it,” said Richard Haynes, a service adviser for the dealership.
Tarver grew up playing with model cars and building gas-powered airplanes. There was a time he thought of the car industry as more of a hobby. He planned a career in computers or the military.
But after taking courses in the Hutchings automotive program to change oil, install brakes and perform other basic car maintenance, he got hooked.
When Tarver was 16, Reeves helped him get an apprenticeship at the dealership.
“When he first walked in, I thought he was 12 or 13 years old,” Haynes said of the then 5-foot teen. “Like most people, I was reluctant; 16-year-olds and $100,000 cars don’t go together.”
At the time, due to insurance coverage, Tarver was actually too young to drive any of the dealership cars or work with powerful machinery.
But he turned out to be a real whiz with electronics, even winning a state automotive skills competition.
“After two days, we knew he was a diamond in the rough,” Haynes said. People — from dealership workers to his former teacher — all took the teen under their wing, taking him home for dinner and supporting him once when he was living in his sister’s car.
By age 18, Tarver was working on internal computer systems at the dealership and diagnosing cars for glitches.
During his senior year, he landed a full $21,000 scholarship to Nashville Auto-Diesel College. A year later, BMW of Macon paid the $11,000 tuition to send him to Orlando, Fla., for a program to specialize in servicing the high-end cars.
He graduated May 29.
“The money you make is higher than some college graduates can make after four or five years” of school, Tarver said while unloading his tools. “And this dealership has taken really good care of me.”
For his former teacher, it also means a lot to see a local product thrive and return home.
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.