The time was never right for Becky Harrison to earn a college degree -- until now.
The 51-year-old Lebanon woman wraps up her office administration and technology (administrative assistant) associate degree at Southwestern Illinois College this spring.
"It's been hanging over my head for a lot of years," said Becky, the warm, friendly office manager at St. George Episcopal Church in Belleville.
She grew up near Dayton, Ohio, got an office job after high school and supported herself until she married at 30.
"My husband (David) was military. He gave me the option to find work or stay home. After having lived on my own, I thought, 'What a great opportunity, I will stay home."
But not for long.
Becky started taking general education classes in 1992 while living in California. She was within five or six classes of finishing a general education associate degree when she learned she was pregnant and she and her husband were being transferred to Scott Air Force Base.
She completed a couple more classes at Belleville Area College.
"I took one or two finals four days after (James) was born," she said. "I just got busy being a mom. I put it all on hold again until fall 2009 when I thought, 'I've got to get this done.'"
She changed her major to web design.
"While I really liked it and leaned a lot, I also learned I couldn't envision doing that on a day-to-day basis."
Then, a lightbulb came on.
She chose the office administration field in which she was comfortable, but wondered, "What more could they teach me?"
"I have learned tons," said Becky, "especially with changing technology. It really has been rewarding."
She uses computer programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint to make tables and format projects. She updated typography on church correspondence.
"I took on the newsletter, and completely changed the format," she said. "It's more contemporary. Half of the folks get it through email, the other half, paper. The way I promote it is, if you get it online, you get to see it in color."
Becky works 30-plus hours a week at the church and takes classes online or in the evening. "I can work on them at my leisure, in my time frame at my pace, but you have to be disciplined," she said. Last semester's schedule was harrowing.
"I had two classes in the evening at SWIC four nights a week. I have felt many times very exhausted. It's a thrill, too. There's a lot of satisfaction."
Her husband and son support her mission.
"I have a small family and two very independent men in my life."
They spurred her on.
"As it turns out, my son is graduating this semester as well -- from Lebanon High School. You always want to graduate before your kids do. It moved me on to try to finish this semester. I've done it, completed it."
They carpool on Wednesday nights for her accounting class and his writing class.
"One nice thing about going to SWIC, I've never felt uncomfortable."
Being an older student is no big deal, and sometimes, is a plus.
"I'm almost always the oldest," said Becky. "This semester, I think I am the oldest in all of my classes by 5 or 10 years. Sometimes, there's a pretty good mix because the program is office administration. Mostly women."
For group projects, younger students seek her out.
"You bring life experience and other work experience they don't have," she said. "They have been very respectful. I've made some friends out there, in my age group and younger."
Tina Dierkes, coordinator of the Office Administration and Technology administrative assistant program, echoed her sentiment.
"Becky is an outstanding student," she said. "When you have a range of ages from 18 to 50s or 60s, it's that range of wisdom and experience (that makes her stand out.)"
Becky got the job at St. George last March.
"It wasn't a first income for us," she said. "I could afford to be choosy ... I had worked at a church before, my home church. I think that gave me an edge. I had all of the software qualifications, including Church Windows, a database program that's a little wonky to use. That's something that not everybody will have."
A church committee of three selected Becky.
"She's terrific," said Dale Coleman, church rector. "We chose her from 367... She was by far the best."
It's a good fit.
Now, Becky wants a bachelor's degree.
"When I first started taking classes all those years ago, it seemed like a bachelor's degree was not unattainable, but far off," she said. "Now that I am so close to finishing up, it's something that's the next step for me. I've started doing some investigating."
She's considering a work force management degree.
"I have been in a managerial role. That seems to me a logical (progression).
"I am going to try to jump right to it."