Some nonagenarians are sitting in nursing homes, drinking pureed food through a straw and watching television. Nola Ochs is earning her bachelor's degree in general studies with an emphasis in history from Fort Hays State University.
Ochs, who will turn 95 in November, is 29 credit hours shy of graduation and plans to take care of 15 of those this fall.
"I'm enrolled in five classes for the semester," Ochs said. "They tell me that's a full load, but if it gets to be too much, I'll just drop one."
This very-non-traditional student is renting an apartment on campus so that she can attend classes. Ochs took a multiculturalism class online during the summer.
"I enjoyed the subject matter, but I missed being in a class, listening to a professor and associating with other class members," she said. "I prefer on-campus classes over Internet classes."
Ochs, who lives near Jetmore, has spent the past 28 years taking classes, but "I wasn't especially interested in graduating, I just wanted the learning experience," she said.
She was looking for something to occupy her mind and her time after Vernon, her husband of 39 years, died in 1972. During the summer of 1978, she enrolled in a history class and a beginning tennis class at Dodge City Community College, and she has been taking classes ever since.
Because she lives 26 miles from Dodge City, driving there for classes could be difficult during the spring semesters when the weather was bad, so Ochs took a class or two in the fall and summer semesters for 10 years.
"One day a professor at Dodge City Community College told me I could graduate if I took college algebra. I remembered algebra from school, and thought, 'It wasn't that hard then, I can do it now,' " Ochs said. "I graduated in 1988 with an associate's degree in general studies."
But Ochs' desire to learn didn't stop there.
"I attended classes even after I graduated. I appreciate a learning situation so when the fliers came out, I would check them over and find something that interested me," she said.
In the fall of 1991, she enrolled at St. Mary's of the Plains College in Dodge City, intending to finish her bachelor's degree, "but the college closed."
Not all of her learning took place in a classroom.
"I tried a Spanish class, but gave it up and decided to learn German. But there was no class teaching the German language at Dodge City Community College, so I checked out tapes and the like from the Dodge City Public Library and tried to learn the language, but I am not at all fluent in German." Her desire to learn German stemmed from her love of her family and genealogy as well as her love of travel.
The traveling helps keep Ochs young.
"I like to travel and I had a friend, she would tell me 'I'm 70, I'd better just stay home.' I thought, 'If she didn't know how old she is, she would be ready to go,' so I don't worry about my age," she said.
"I enjoy visiting relatives, and they live throughout the United States, so I have seen our nation from the East Coast, including Washington D.C., to the West Coast."
Ochs has also visited family as far away as Germany.
"I went to the Holy Land, and some family in Frankfurt said if I could come by and stay a week, they would love to have me visit. They were very nice people and took good care of me," she said.
Ochs traveled to England, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands as part of a farm tour of Europe. "I thoroughly appreciate having done that. I'm a widow of a farmer and still live on the farm."
Tending to the Ochs land is a family affair. "Raising Vernon Ochs' four boys is my claim to fame." She has 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Her sons and grandsons take care of the family farm, so it will be in good hands when she leaves for college.
Education is a family affair also.
She has taken several classes with family members, including a computer class with a grandson and daughter-in-law and a tax preparation class with a son and two grandsons.
Two of Ochs's sons, Marion and Alan, attended Fort Hays State University and one of her daughters-in-law, Julie, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees there.
Alan and Julie's daughter, Alexandra, is a senior at FHSU and will help keep an eye on her grandmother while she is here. "She's very independent. She won't expect me to help her out," said Alexandra, "But I'll probably see her a lot. She has an amazing faith. She has always been a really great role model for me and the rest of the family."
"I tell my family as long as we love each other and work together we can handle almost anything," Nola said.
Ochs' dedication to her family is also evident in one of her favorite hobbies, genealogical research. She purchased a computer in 1995 to help organize all of her research.
"It's very satisfying to know who your forefathers are, their occupations and faith," she said. "We aren't separate individuals, we're part of a whole group."
Ochs' other hobbies include gardening, crocheting and baking bread. She's well-known for her cinnamon rolls. She is also a trustee on the Southwest Kansas Library Board.
"That inspired me to take classes as well because those librarians were talking about ways to use technology and communication," she said.
"I don't keep track of my age, but I can tell you I was born in November of 1911," Ochs said. "I've led a long, interesting life. We went through the dust storms. We had some difficult times in our marriage, financially. But it's been the Lord's will that I've lived this long life, and I thank Him kindly for it."