Pinch of Faith: Dreams never die; you just quietly put them to bed

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She was 95 years old when she became the Guinness World Records’ oldest college graduate in 2006. 

Nola Ochs took some college courses in 1930 at the age of 29, but with a husband, four sons, and a farm in Kansas, her pursuit of higher education was put on hold. Following the death of her husband after 39 years of marriage, she enrolled in a community college in Dodge City, Kansas, and came within 30 credits of her bachelor’s degree. 

Finally, in 2006, she graduated from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. 

Although her wish was to become a storyteller on a cruise ship, she earned a general studies degree with a history emphasis. She proudly graduated with Alexandria, who at age 21 was one of Nola’s 13 grandchildren.

After they graduated, Princess Cruises hired Nola as a guest lecturer on a nine-day Caribbean cruise. She was accompanied by Alexandria. Shortly after returning home to Kansas to help harvest the wheat on the family farm, Nola enrolled again at Fort Hays State University where she earned her master’s degree at the age of 98. On her 100th birthday, Nola was an MA student and a graduate teaching assistant at Fort Hays State. She passed away five years later.

Holding the Guinness record until 2016, Nola was replaced by Mr. Shigemi Herato, who still reigns as the world’s oldest college graduate. Born in Hiroshima, Mr. Herato worked for the Japanese navy during and after WWII. Until his retirement, he worked as a managing director with the Japan Labor Health and Welfare Organization. He then pursued a degree in ceramic arts in Kyoto, Japan, earning it at the tender age of 96.

Learning about these two college grads has inspired me to think about further learning. After high school graduation, I entered college and became a home economics major, which seemed relatively appealing at the time. However, after barely squeaking by the required chemistry course, and failing miserably at bound buttonholes, I was beginning to think I should pursue another career.  

The following year, after completing my sophomore year with my sights set on a general education degree, I immersed myself in my very own hands-on home economics when I got married and immediately started producing babies.

I did return to a local community college when our children were all teenagers and took courses in accounting and computers. Being the oldest person in the classroom, including the instructor, did not deter me from completing my courses, although I must admit that my orthopedic shoes got a lot of curious glances from my classmates.

Abandoning all hope of ever re-entering the classroom, I recently read an article that has rekindled a desire deep within my heart. The Boston Conservatory at Berklee is offering a class in college dance. It is being taught by one of the world renowned Rockettes, and although the enrollment was originally limited to 30, the demand was so great that 36 students were allowed to participate in the most popular class this semester at the performing arts school. Founded in 1867, I seriously doubt if anyone could have foreseen this coming.

In addition to learning precise technique based on tap, ballet, and jazz, the students also get a taste of the teamwork and dedication involved in becoming a Rockette. The famous precision dance team members put in six hours of practice every day for six days a week, which leaves little time for anything else.

I studied tap, ballroom, and ballet in my younger, more agile years, but recalling that my dreams of becoming Ann Miller or Ginger Rogers never came to fruition, I came to the shocking conclusion that perhaps the Rockettes 101 class might not work for me.  

I had once envisioned myself gliding gracefully across a movie screen, dressed in beautiful gowns, surrounded by handsome men in tuxedos. However, after my dance instructor saw me perform, it was decided that I would be the comedy finale of the recitals. With blacked out teeth, patches on my tattered costume, and “The End” boldly printed on my polka dotted bloomers viewed by the audience, my dancing days soon ended. 

The records set by Nola Ochs and Shigemi Herato are in no danger of being threatened by me, but if the Rockettes ever need a comedy act, perhaps there’s still hope for me down the road.

Copyright © 2023 Mary Margaret Lambert

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