Friday, June 4, 2010
Ada — "You gotta live until you die,” says Lorene Rocker, which explains why she is finishing her bachelor’s degree at East Central University this summer – at age 80 and with 13 great-grandchildren – and is looking forward to a new career and possibly earning a master’s degree in counseling.
"I’ve got to work. I can’t just sit at home,” she said.
Rocker participated in the afternoon commencement ceremony Saturday in Kerr Activities Center for spring and summer graduates. She has to complete an internship this summer to fulfill requirements for her degree.
She is majoring in human resources counseling, with a concentration in rehabilitation counseling, and has a minor in aging services. She will need a master’s degree in counseling to become a certified counselor.
Rocker said she prefers to stay in the Ada area to work, but to find a job she may have to return to the Dallas area where she has lived several times.
"The 5 o’clock rush hour traffic seemed like it got worse daily,” she recalled. "If I have to go back, maybe I can work in one of the outlying areas.
"If I have to go to Dallas with my daughter,” she added with a chuckle, "I always drive. She won’t even try to drive in Dallas. And I’m a better driver. She’ll tell you that.”
At age 15, Rocker moved from Oklahoma City to Fitzhugh with her family. Her parents raised Shetland ponies and were business partners with Asa Hutchinson, founder of Gem Jewelers in Ada.
Rocker married but moved back to Oklahoma City after a divorce. She lived in Chicago a year, then moved to Dallas. In later years she lived in Galveston and married again.
When her father died, she and her husband moved to Fitzhugh and cared for her mother until her death. They lived in Cordell until her husband died, and she moved back to Dallas in 1989.
"I had to make a living,” she said.
Rocker has worked since she was 22. She’s been a waitress and bartender, managed offices and warehouses, done clerical work and worked for Western Union.
Her favorite job was working as an activity director at an assisted living and skilled nursing facility in Dallas. She did assessments of people coming into the facility and planned activities, including taking residents to grocery and drug stores and bringing in live entertainment.
"I was as old as some of them, and older than some,” she said.
The facility was sold in 2003, however, and she was out of a job.
"I came back to Oklahoma to see what I wanted to do.”
One of her sons, Paul Noland of Ada, graduated from ECU with honors in 2000 when he was 54. He later was diagnosed with cancer and Rocker took care of him until he died in 2006.
Once again, the resilient Rocker had to decide what to do.
"I decided to come to college,” she said. "I just thought, I’ve always been open and outgoing. I won’t know if I can do it if I don’t try.”
At one time, Paul Noland had been involved with drugs and alcohol but had been sober the last 17 years of his life, his mother said.
"I started out (at ECU) wanting to be an alcohol and drug counselor, but now I want to do peer counseling, counsel people in my age group. A lot of baby boomers have alcohol problems. And alcoholism is called an invisible, or hidden, problem in older people,” she explained. "If their children don’t visit them very often, they don’t know their parents have problems.”
Rocker said she has had "a fantastic experience” at ECU. "It is such a fantastic college because you have access to your professors. They would always stay after class and we could talk to them. I don’t think that happens at a lot of schools.”
Apprehensive at first, though, she said she would think, "I’m starting back to college, and I never finished high school.”
The Educational Opportunity Center at ECU helped her through the application and enrollment process. She did have a GED and had taken several courses at a community college to become a certified activities director.
One day she received a letter from ECU and opened it nervously. It told her she had made the Dean’s Honor Roll.
"The first five semesters, I didn’t make the honor roll. I hadn’t even thought about it. I was worried I’d just be able to pass my classes.”
Rocker didn’t have to worry about one class, American history since 1877.
"We talked about things I lived through. I lived through the Depression and the Second World War, and I remember my parents talking about things in the 1920s. If I’d raise my hand to answer a question,” she said with a laugh, "the professor would say, ‘I’m not going to ask you.’
"Both my parents came to Oklahoma by covered wagon,” she said. "They lived to see their son become a pilot and man land on the moon. They didn’t ever think we’d land on the moon. Now we think everything is possible.”
Only a few things have slowed her down on the way to her degree.
"I’m not as mobile as I used to be. I have COPD now, and I hate this thing,” she said, referring to her oxygen. She also uses a power chair on campus because she gets winded even with oxygen if she walks too much. She plans to walk across the stage at graduation.
She had a hip replacement in 2008, two days after her last final, and missed the fall 2007 semester because she had blood clots in her lungs.
"When you get older, I would say, don’t sit on your laurels,” Rocker advised. "Go back to school. Do something you’ve always wanted to try. You’ll never know until you try it. Don’t be afraid. If you don’t succeed at one thing, it doesn’t mean you won’t succeed at something else.”
Rocker has a daughter, Sandy Phillips of Ada; a son, Drew Noland of Carrollton, Texas; and six grandchildren as well as her 13 great-grandchildren. Several will be at Saturday’s ceremony to watch "Granny graduate from college.”