At 88, this student can't get enough of college

'RECYCLED TEEN' AT TOWSON

March 22, 1993|By Melvin Durai | Melvin Durai,Contributing Writer

When Milton Rudich graduated from high school in 1920, college was not an option.

"I had to work to support myself," Mr. Rudich said. "I needed the income."

Seventy-three years later, after watching his daughter and three grandchildren graduate from college, he's gone back to school.

Though Mr. Rudich, 88, is the oldest student at Towson State University, a refrigerator magnet in his apartment suggests he prefers to think of himself as "a recycled teen-ager."

Like many of his fellow students, he takes the shuttle bus to his classes. But unlike some younger colleagues, he can't seem to get enough of college. He takes at least three courses every semester and has taken some courses twice.

"I took criminology a few years ago and I'm taking it again because the criminals change so much in a few years," said Mr. Rudich, who retired from the hosiery business in 1980. He had been a salesman for 60 years, most of them with the Men's Interwoven Sock Co.

He started taking classes seven years ago to battle the loneliness he felt after his wife of 51 years, Katherine, died.

"It was a good way to get out of the house," he said. "The days were long enough."

As a member of the Golden I.D. program, he can take three courses at Towson State for a nominal $50 registration fee. The program, sponsored by schools in the University of Maryland system, provides a tuition waiver for Maryland residents age 60 and older whose chief income is derived from retirement benefits.

Over the years, he has taken classes in a variety of subjects, but said his favorite courses are in sociology because "it covers everything in life." He audits the courses, which means he doesn't have to take exams or buy textbooks.

Dornita McKinnon, a 22-year-old senior, said having Mr. Rudich in her class was a "good change" because she has little interaction with senior citizens, and "he's a pretty cool guy."

His presence in a classroom rarely goes unnoticed.

"I stick out like a sore thumb because of my gray hair and bald head," the bespectacled Mr. Rudich said with a laugh, remembering the time a student greeted him with the words, "Hi professor!"

Mr. Rudich also stands out in class because he shares his life's history with his classmates.

"There are things you experience in life that are not in the textbooks, but fit into the classroom discussion," he said. "That happens a great deal."

Douglas Martin, head of Towson State's history department, taught Mr. Rudich a few years ago. He said professors in his department are delighted to have older students like Mr. Rudich.

"He was very interested in the subject matter," said Dr. Martin. "What he did, and what a lot of older students do, is contribute a lot of insight and life experience. They really benefit the younger students."

Mr. Rudich has lived through 16 presidencies and every war since the Great War -- World War I. "When we're talking about the history of television, he knows all about it because he lived through it," said B. J. Nesline, a 20-year-old sophomore who is taking Introduction to the Electronic Media with Mr. Rudich.

"He makes the class really interesting," said Dr. Joseph Ebiware, who teaches the electronic media class. "When we talk about things that happened in the early part of the century, he can really relate to them."

Allan Lipsitz, director of Older Adult Programs at Towson State, said the presence of Mr. Rudich and other older students helps defeat the stereotypes held by some younger students.

"They get to see that the older generation is not just a bunch of old fogies, lying in nursing homes," he said. The older students "can give them a run for their money."

Mr. Rudich said he has no plans to retire to a nursing home. He plans to continue at Towson State for as long as his health allows, and that could be a long, long time.

"I can't buy a headache," he said.

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