For some adults, the idea of suddenly being back in a classroom, with facts to retain and tests to take, is the stuff of recurring nightmares. But for one 82-year-old Kansas grandmother of eight (and great-grandmother of two), going back to school has been more like a life-affirming dream.
Since enrolling in classes at Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, this year as a way to refocus her life after the death of her husband of 59 years, Frances Wood has become something of a campus celebrity. She’s struck up friendships with people more than six decades her junior and was just named honorary homecoming queen by her fellow students. "That was fun!" she told Yahoo Shine. And she’s been learning plenty about finance and history along the way.
Wood says she broke the ice with classmates early by handing out business cards with her contact info — and the name “Granny Franny.”
“My grandson calls me that, and I think it’s kind of cute, and I thought, well, then [the students] won’t have to wonder what to call me,” she says. “And they, in turn, have just been so approachable.”
Wood, who lives in Hiawatha, did go to college before — 63 years ago. But she dropped out after three semesters, because she thought she’d marry her sweetheart at the time. That didn’t happen, but soon she nabbed a job as a clerk with the local utility company and wound up marrying her supervisor, with whom she had three daughters. Wood says she never regretted leaving school. “I can’t even remember what classes I took,” she admits, and lived an active life raising kids, traveling the world, exercising (she still takes fitness classes at her local YMCA and plays “intense” table tennis, according to a story about her on the university’s website), and being active with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an antivice organization.
But after becoming widowed she yearned for a change of pace, and decided that learning — particularly about scriptures, personal finance and history, the subjects she’s studying — would be the best route to take.
“I do my own investing and income taxes, so that made sense. And as far as Kansas history, I’m sort of a resource person,” she says with a laugh. “I’m a better student now. I’m more focused on learning. And I’m especially more interested in Kansas history, which I’m sure I wouldn’t have been as interested in as a 20-year-old!”
Her personal-finance professor, Mike Gough, tells Yahoo Shine that Wood is a joy to have in his classroom. “She’s great. She’s very engaged in class, and you can tell she just really enjoys learning. Plus she’s very optimistic and she does great on the tests,” he says. “She also wants to be [the students’] friend. She listens to them, and she eats lunch with them in the cafeteria. I’ve seen her sometimes sitting and eating with all the football players.” The biggest lessons the students have learned from her, Gough adds, “is to have zest for life. She’s very energetic and positive.”