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Ochs, 95, to become world's oldest college graduate

Ochs, 95, to become world's oldest college graduate

Somewhere in her 80s, Nola Ochs stopped counting birthdays.
She'd still have her cake every November 22, and maybe even a little ice cream. Family would stop by and wish her a happy day, but there'd be no talk about her age.
"Until I came up to Fort Hays," Ochs said. "They all know I'm 95 around here."
And now so does the rest of the world.
In just two weeks, Ochs is scheduled to get a degree in history from Fort Hays State University in Kansas and become the world's oldest college graduate.
"I didn't feel like I was doing anything someone else hadn't done," said Ochs, who grew up on a farm in Hodgeman County in southwest Kansas. "But I sure am enjoying all of this."
Before the grandmother and great-grandmother becomes a Guinness World Record holder, she has course papers to finish and plenty of studying to do. Not to mention all the media she has to tend with.
"You're my 11th call," Ochs said last week in a telephone interview from her apartment on the Fort Hays campus.
By 1:30 Friday afternoon, she had already been called by at least three radio shows and was waiting for a photographer. When a university official setting up interviews apologized Friday for sending everyone her way, Ochs said not to worry.
"She said, 'I sure am enjoying my 95th year,'" said Kurt Beyers, assistant director of university relations.
For two semesters now, Ochs has walked the halls and campus with many students about a fifth her age, including her granddaughter, also set to graduate. She has researched papers on the Internet, written reports held up as model work by professors and relived history for other students in history class.
"She's so engaged and sharp at any age," said Shala Mills, an associate professor teaching a political issues course Ochs is taking this semester. "She's so serious about her education."
Ochs will agree with that.
"I work like a beaver," she said. "When finals come, I work like two beavers."
As a friend, she's pretty great, too, said Russell Williams, 21, a journalism student from Pratt, Kansas. The two were neighbors last semester and struck up a friendship.
After Williams moved off campus this semester, he started taking a sack lunch to her home on Mondays and Fridays. They talk about classes and homework, and Williams often gets to hear Ochs' stories.
"She told me one time about growing up on the farm with her parents and siblings, the chores they had to do. Growing a garden for vegetables," said Williams. "She talked of her ancestors coming and settling here.
"... I was talking to a friend the other day and said, 'Man, I've learned more from eating lunch with her than I have in all my classes.'"
The whole higher education thing started for Ochs in 1978 when she was 67. A 1929 graduate of Dodge City (Kansas) High School, Ochs was now a mother and grandmother.
She happened to see a flier one day advertising classes at the community college. Her husband had passed away a few years before, and maybe she would take a class, she figured.
How about tennis? The course was for beginners.
"I just decided I would like to go down and play tennis with those kids," Ochs said.
That went well. The kids were really nice, so why not some more classes? She signed up for an agribusiness marketing course and a Bible study.
"Whenever I could, I added a Bible study class," she said.
Without realizing it, nearly a decade later she had almost all the credits she needed to graduate from Dodge City Community College. All she needed was an algebra class.
She got it and the degree in 1988.
She remembers then wanting to graduate from a four-year college.
At age 76 she took the ACT for the first time. She doesn't remember her final score.
"I do remember them commenting that I had done quite well in arithmetic," Ochs said. "That I had remembered quite a bit."
She enrolled at St. Mary of the Plains. After a year, the school closed.
"That left me without a four-year degree, you see," Ochs said.
She eventually contacted Fort Hays and asked whether they would accept her transfer credits. They would.
And after she took a course over the Internet last summer, she had only 30 hours left for her degree.
When asked what she would do next, where this college degree would take her, Ochs laughed.
"Oh, I'm glad you asked me that," she said. "I have an answer for you."
She said she wanted a job on a cruise ship, as a story teller. She could tell good stories there.
Really?
"Oh, probably not," she said, still laughing. She said more classes would likely be in her future.
"A learning situation makes me happy."


Updated : 2021-07-24 19:29 GMT+08:00