Three Degrees Earned at Age 88

May 27, 2004, vol. 30, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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A trio of graduates will celebrate at spring convocation the achievement of completing not one degree, but three. The milestone means that Mabel Dumbrell, 88, Illeana Oostergo, 70 and George Kaufman, 54, will be recognized for earning three concurrent degrees in the faculty of arts. Each of the veteran life-long learners accumulated the required credits necessary to complete three academic programs as the result of studies spanning one or even two decades. A typical bachelor's degree is earned upon completion of 120 credit hours, 45 of which are upper division credit hours. Maureen Caufield, faculty advisor in the dean of arts office, says that to earn a second degree, a student would have to complete another 45 upper division credit hours, plus any required lower division courses. The same would apply to a third degree. However if students keep going instead of graduating after the 120 credits, they could conceivably do two or even three degrees concurrently. All three had a minimum of 210 credit hours. Completing degrees hasn't quelled their desire to keep on going.

Mabel Dumbrell

If university had been a plausible choice for Mabel Dumbrell when she was young her degree status would be many decades old.

Instead, her family is hopeful that at 88, the remarkable triple degree recipient can enjoy her accomplishments for a time following June convocation.

Dumbrell was born in Chilliwack in 1916 and did a brief stint in UBC's early childhood education program, but could not afford to continue. She married, had two children and worked with her husband in their bakery until his death in 1966. Fiercely independent, she turned to university after retiring from a secretarial job at Home Oil.

Dumbrell describes herself as an average student who was usually the matriarch of the class. She took a wide variety of courses, from her favorites in political science, to history, archaeology, and even Arabic.

She graduates with a pair of bachelor of arts degrees majoring in political science and history. She also earned a bachelor of general studies.

Last fall Dumbrell's health deteriorated. She is now in a wheelchair and recently moved into a Vancouver nursing home.

“Even now, mom wants to continue on and study globalization,” says daughter-in-law Maryke Messchaert. “However, she is aware of her limitations but tries to keep mentally active by reading and playing cards.

“It's not easy for her now. We know she is living for convocation.

“But she has done an amazing job. We're so proud. To achieve a degree at her age is something. To earn three, that's amazing. It will be a meaningful celebration for all of us.”

Illeana Oostergo

Growing up in mainland China during the Second World War meant Illeana Oostergo wouldn't see the inside of a classroom for most of her education.

Taught through her primary years by the Canadian Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, she was tutored by her parents when war broke out and afterwards by a private tutor.

Her dream was to be a journalist, but she instead followed school with training in fine arts and stenography.

It wasn't until she was widowed in her 40s, living in Canada and raising three children, that she ventured back into a classroom as a part-time student in Douglas College's communication program.

She completed diplomas at the college and hoped to transfer to UBC's art history program. But with aged parents and the needs of growing children, she waited until 1995 to enroll at SFU, working part-time as a sales clerk. Now 70, she graduates from SFU with a pair of bachelor of arts degrees in humanities and English, and a bachelor of general studies.

The Richmond grandmother thrives in the classroom. “At first my grandchildren would ask me, ‘Grandma, why do you want to go to school?' They couldn't see why I would choose to go,” says Oostergo, a self-proclaimed computer dummy who relies on a typewriter.

“I find it amazing to be among the younger generation and see what they are about. Things are not so clear cut for them. I think there is a multitude of choices in front of them. That doesn't necessarily mean things are easier.”

Oostergo may continue to take courses and is now exploring her options. She is not yet ruling out a career in journalism.

George Kaufmann

Having spent his early years on the wrong side of the tracks in the worst end of town, George Kaufmann faced the usual adversities of the many neglected young people of his age while growing up in Ontario.

Being on his own since his mid-teens he first came west in 1970 to settle at Whistler, when it was little more than a gas station and a chair lift.

A student at SFU off and on since1984 - and a fixture as a part time employee at the Highland pub for the past 15 years - Kaufmann is a proponent of lifelong education and world travels.

He is currently a senior archaeologist on the on-going Barkley Sound archaeological project, an SFU/Douglas College-affiliated cultural inventory survey on the west coast of Vancouver Island with the Toqhaht and Tse Shaht First Nations.

Since its beginnings in 1991, the project has brought together First Nations teenagers and young adults to study the traditional cultural practices of the past through the archaeology of their ancestors.

This summer Kaufmann and a small team plan to work with the young people of the Huu Ay Aht First Nations, excavating an ancient traditional village on Diana Island in Barkley Sound.

Kaufmann has earned three degrees concurrently at SFU, including a pair of bachelor of arts degrees in history and archaeology, as well as a bachelor of general studies degree with a First Nations minor.

For Kaufmann, the classroom will always be part of his life. He hopes to one day “settle down” to teaching at a First Nations school somewhere near the ocean.

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