Revisiting Oldest College Graduate

Education, Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, People
on August 12, 2010
Nola Ochs earned a master's degree in May at the age of 98, and she plans to pursue another academic degree from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan.

As part of our ongoing anniversary celebration, were updating some of our most memorable stories. In 2007, we introduced you to a great-grandmother who believes its never too late to earn a college degreeor two.

Nola Ochs, 98, could have rested on her laurels after earning a bachelors degree in 2007 and becoming the worlds oldest college graduate. Instead, Ochs went back to Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan. (pop. 20,013), and completed a masters degree in liberal studies in May.

The petite blue-eyed dynamo isnt finished with college yet, though. Shes enrolled in fall classes and working toward another masters degree, this time in history.

I dont know what I could do at home that would give me the same pleasure as learning, says Ochs, of Jetmore, Kan. (pop. 903), who bunks in a campus apartment when classes are in session.

Along with her bachelors degree came national acclaim, hundreds of congratulatory cards and letters, a TV appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and a complimentary nine-day Caribbean cruise during which Ochs entertained as a storyteller aboard the Crown Princess.

Though her Guinness World Record as the oldest person to graduate from college was surpassed last year by a 96-year-old Taiwanese man, Ochs is awaiting confirmation from Guinness officials that shes the oldest person to complete a masters degree.

Fame, though, isnt Ochs motivation for continuing her education. Shes always loved school.

After graduating from Dodge City High School in 1929, she passed her teachers certification exam and taught in one-room Kansas schoolhouses. As a 68-year-old widow, Ochs began taking one or two college classes a semester to stay mentally active. Once she earned her associates degree in 1988, she kept on hitting the books.

At her spring graduation ceremony, 50 cheering relatives wore T-shirts with the message: Nola Ochs Graduating Again! Among her fans was fellow co-ed and great-granddaughter Janae Ochs, 19.

Though they dont attend classes together, Nola and Janae occasionally visit or share lunch on campus. And if the younger Ochs needs help on the computer, she knows whom to ask. Grandma knows more about computers than I do, Janae says.

The computer is a blessing for Nola, who has compiled extensive information on her family tree. I have 8,000 family names on my computer, she says. I like to get acquainted with all my relatives and make a connection with them.

Nola used her computer for her favorite college project to date, a 50-page research paper on modern piracy on the high seas.

Shes amazing, says Raymond Wilson, Nolas academic adviser and history department chairman. Id like to see her become a graduate teaching assistant next spring.

Nola beams at the prospect of putting her college degrees to work.

The last time I had a job was in 1933 when I was a teacher in the country school, she says with a laugh.