Positive Thinker, Lifelong Learner

Positive-thinking senior citizen defies odds and goes back to college.

by - Posted on Nov 1, 2007

Update: Ochs went back to Fort Hays State University and completed a master’s degree in liberal studies.

Talk about continuing education. Kansas great-grandmother Nola Ochs, the world's oldest college graduate at age 95, is now pursuing a master's degree.

Marriage and raising four boys on a farm kept her busy until the 1970s, when her husband, Vernon, passed away, and her youngest left the nest. "I wanted to get off the farm and do something for pleasure," says Nola. So she took tennis lessons. Then a series of agribusiness marketing courses because, she says, "My boys were running the farm but we didn't know how to market." Her appetite for learning whetted, she signed up for whatever courses sounded interesting—including geography, genealogy, composition. "They will judge my generation by what we write, so I wanted to write well," Nola reasons.

She discovered a real passion for history, a zeal enjoyed by her professors and fellow students at Fort Hays State University, who got to hear Nola's firsthand experiences of events they'd only read about. She told the story of her family riding their team of horses into town. Nola, then just a young girl, was sure her father was going to leave for World War I (he didn't) and wondered how her mother would be able to get the wagon back home. She told the class about cattle drives, the storms of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the radio announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor, about how her father's farmer status kept him out of World War II as well.

To cut down on travel to and from class, Nola moved off the farm and got an apartment on campus, furnishing it with a computer. Not one to shy away from new technology, she took a class, of course, on how to use it.

"My oldest son was skeptical, but when he saw how many friends I had he didn't worry for long," says Nola. Faculty and students were friendly and welcoming. Among her closest study buddies? Her 21-year-old granddaughter Alexandra, who graduated with her last May.

Life for the senior citizen college grad has been anything but mellow: a celebratory cruise, responding to well-wishers from all over the world, an appearance on The Tonight Show.

"Overall my enthusiasm comes from believing that what I do is helping the college and helping our state," says Nola. "Just knowing that I am encouraging people, that's what gives me all my energy."

Nola's Tips
Set a date to begin. We talk about things but we don't do them.

Let people help you. They really do want to help!

Search your inner being for what you like to do. Everyone has something that they didn't think there was time for. But it's possible if you begin.

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