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A Message from Gardant’s Co-Presidents


From the Desks of the Co-Presidents 

Julie Simpkins & Greg Echols 


Is going back to school later in life the new norm? 

It is that time of year again. Summer is over, school is back in session. We watched with interest the preparation, excitement and even some anxiety of people from pre -school to college. What is even more exciting is the shift of who is choosing to continue their education. Would it surprise you to learn that adults entering or returning to school later in life are now the majority of degree seekers in the U.S.? 

There are many reasons for this new normal. 

Intellectual stimulation: going back to school allows individuals to engage their minds, learn new things and stay mentally sharp. 

Personal growth: continuing education later in life can be a transformative experience. It offers the opportunity to explore new interests, discover hidden talents and broaden one’s perspective. 

Social interaction: whether in person or online, college provides a unique environment for socializing, networking, and building connections. 

Pursuit of lifelong dreams: many individuals may have put their educational aspirations on hold due to various reasons earlier in life. Going back to school later allows them to fulfill long-held dreams. 

With permission from our own Resident graduate, we would like to share her story in her words. 

Path to Graduation: A letter from Vicki Ragner

Dear Crystal,

You once asked me why I was going to college at my age. I think it was a

“bucket list’ thing. I grew up very poor and never thought about college, as it

turned out I was a very good student all through school.

I always enjoyed school. After graduating from Auburn High School in 1963,

I thought about going to Northern Illinois. However, I had a boyfriend and did not want to leave

him. Therefore, I did not go. I got a good job and kept Tom.

We were married on August 2, 1964, and had three children. We were not rich but lived well.

At the age of 30, I had a nervous breakdown, I felt life was over and I was “old”. That’s when I

decided to go to Rock Valley College. I had three children and a full-time job, so I was only able to

take one class per semester. There were so many times I could not go because I

didn’t have money. I kept plugging along.

I was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989. I’m in remission now. My husband later

died in 2013 and I started having heart problem and had to have open heart

surgery. After moving into Heritage Woods of Rockford (6 years later) I decided

to go back for my associate degree. I got off course after I came because my

daughter suddenly passed away. My mother passed away the same year.

Once I started, I had to finish.

Now I’m graduating on May 19, 2023. Hoorah!!!! I finally did it!!!

The staff and residents of Heritage Woods were so very encouraging to me. They called me the

“college girl.” Their encouragement was very much appreciated. They kept me going and cheering

me on. Many of the residents here are “my family.” I am so excited to share my

special day with all of them.

This fall I am going to a Philosophy Moral class just for fun. I plan to attend as

long as I’m able too, who knows, maybe I will get another associate degree!

Love, Vicki Ragner

Congratulations Vicki! Thank you for showing us we can fulfil our dreams at any age.

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