A lifelong wish has come true for Mable Lewis. It's been 67 years since she left college, and the 85-year-old Ellicott City resident is finally getting her degree.
The alumna of McMurry College, nowMcMurry University, in Abilene, Texas, has many fond memories of hertimes as a student there in 1924 and 1925.
"She is always talking about Texas and her days when she was astudent attending McMurry College," said Ken Brown, an associate minister at Glen Mar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, where Lewis is a member. "Many times she has expressed her regrets at having never completed her degree."
Last August, Brown had an idea. After one of his frequent visits with Mable, he went back to his office and "on a whim", whipped up a letter to the president of the college.
"But I didn't expect much to come of it," he said.
On the contrary, when McMurry President Thomas Kim received the letter, he wasanxious to respond.
"I was very touched that that lady who loved the school so much had one unfulfilled wish in her life," Kim said.
So Kim dug out Lewis' college record and discovered that under the current degree structure, she had earned enough credits for an associate of arts degree in education. The school waived the usual timelimit on credits earned and mailed the documentation to Brown, giving him permission to award the degree to Lewis during a special ceremony at the Glen Mar Church.
Kim also invited Lewis to attend theuniversity's commencement exercises in May, when the school will award her an honorary bachelor's degree.
"I didn't think that I deserved a degree; they must have changed the requirements," Lewis replied. Her credits from McMurry entitled her to receive a teaching certificate enabling her to teach second and third grades for five years in Texas. Lewis said she also earned additional credits from Austin University after she had left McMurry.
But why did she ever leave this school she so fondly remembers?
"I guess I thought I wasgrown up; I was young and wanted to do things my own way," she said.Even the president of the college at the time, J. W. Hunt, could notconvince her to change her mind.
Today, almost 70 years later,Lewis is older, wiser and seems satisfied to learn that she earned her degree after all. Memories of her college days are rekindled whenever she pores over the pages of her 1925 college yearbook, the Totem.Despite the passage of time, college experiences remain much the same, apparently.
Lewis laughed when she came across the pictureof a favorite English teacher.
"She used to say, 'Oh you poor little ignorant freshmen.' We thought that since we had graduated from high school, we weren't ignorant. They were good days," she said.
Lewis, who grew up in Sweetwater, Texas, with six older brothers, found dorm life to be a challenge.
"I needed to learn to share, and it took me a while to adjust when I had to share a room with another girl," she said.
She recalls the "dateless girls whosang loudly" whenever a male would wait nervously for his girlfriend, or the girls who "stayed in the parlor" accompanying the young couples who couldn't afford to go out on a date.
College enrollment at the time was between 200 and 300 students, and there was justone dormitory. Today, 1,700 students are enrolled, and the campus has 38 buildings, including four dormitories.
"She would never recognize the place now and would probably feel like Rip Van Winkle if shewere to visit," said Kim.
Thumbing through the pages of her yearbook, Lewis came across autographed messages that are now faded. Inspite of their illegibility, the alumna is still able to decipher the words that she has read many times.
"I shall always rememberyou when I think of McMurry (College), and I want you to think of mesometime" one girl wrote. "You are a dandy girl and a good one, too.I love you," penned another.
Lewis moved from Texas after thedeath of her husband five years ago in order to be close by her son,Frank Lewis, a retired teacher who was chairman of foreign languagesat Catonsville Senior High School for 31 years. He graduated from McMurry in 1955.
"My mother reminisces about her college days more than anything else, and I think the degree will give her satisfaction in knowing that she actually earned it," he said.
As Mable Lewis speaks of her former home, a trace of nostalgia is apparent.
"But I like it here," she said. "I can watch the trees as they change from season to season." When asked about her plans to attend the commencement ceremonies of her alma mater, she replied, 'No, I am not planning to go there. It's a long, long way and I'm not as spry as I usedto be. Besides, things are never the same when you go back, and I don't know how that would make me feel."