75-year-old reaches dream of a college education

Mary short (right) poses with her teacher, Lucke, in Guatemala.

Mary Short began her journey toward a college degree just like many other students, but one thing set her apart. Short is in her 70s.

She is now 75 and excited to be nearing her long-anticipated graduation in May. “I’m seeing my life dream come true,” she said.

The motivation and support to attend college started with her husband, George, on Jan. 1, 2012.

George asked her if there was anything she hadn’t yet accomplished in her life that she’d like to do. She replied, “Oh yes, there are two things: I’d like to have grandchildren and I’d like to have a college degree.”

George said although he couldn’t help with the grandchildren, he would help her get a degree.

“I always wanted to go to college,” she said. “I always felt like I really missed something. I’ve had a lot of accomplishments … but that just wasn’t enough.”

Describing herself as a “dye in the wool” Catholic, her first-choice college was Newman University. Due to the lack of scholarships available for a student in Short’s position, she started taking less-expensive general education courses at Butler Community College in 2012 and then transferred to Newman for the completion of her interdisciplinary studies degree.

When Short started her courses at Butler, she was working for Enterprise Agency Inc., an insurance agency where she had started in 1962. She began at the agency as an administrative assistant, worked her way up to partner and eventually became president. She retired in 2015 and became a full-time student.

For most of her life, she played a major role in multiple organizations for insurance professionals. “I feel pretty good about what I’ve done with my life,” said Short. “I’ve been the first woman to do several things in this town that involved nothing but men in the insurance business.” 

Short said she’s working her way through college with the help of professors, classmates and her family, especially her husband. 

“I couldn’t have done all this without him, he’s just been wonderful,” she said.

Her daughter, Margaret, has not only helped her with the technology aspect of going back to school, but as a teacher has acted as her private algebra tutor, accepting payment in the form of home-cooked meals. 

Getting a degree is important to Short, but a major driving factor in her college education was the desire to relearn her native language.

“I lost my Spanish as a young girl,” she said. “I went to a public school and there were no other Mexicans.” 

One of Short’s most memorable Newman experiences was an eight-week service trip to Guatemala in May 2017 with Sonja Bontrager, M.A., assistant professor of Spanish, and a small group of students. “Because I was so enthusiastic about learning Spanish, I wanted to do total immersion,” she said.

Short was amazed at how much of the Spanish language came back to her naturally while she was immersed in the culture. Her host family helped her with the language immensely. 

The trip proved to be incredible in many ways for Short, but the best part was making friends that became family. She formed strong relationships with the individuals there as well as with her travel companions. 

“I was able to make dear friendships with my fellow students and learned to love them, too.”  She worried about the huge age gap between her and other students but said, “Now I see them all over campus and they’re yelling my name and waving — it just makes me feel like part of the school — like I really belong here.”

From helping teach English at schools to cleaning up garbage in front yards, Short enjoyed every bit of her trip. She plans to return for a visit to Guatemala with her husband after graduation. 

Short’s college experience was long awaited but well worth it. “I just love it here (at Newman). I love coming to school. Even if I hate a subject, I love coming to school,” she said. 

Short graduates in May 2018 and said she will proudly be wearing her Newman class ring as a reminder of her experience and accomplishment. 

Short said she will miss the daily challenge of the classroom, motivation from her fellow classmates and forming new friendships.

Following graduation, Short plans to start doing more volunteer work at her church and teach English in the Hispanic community.