Commencement Included 80-year-old Graduate

(Written by junior Jamie Helgren and published May 8 in the Doane Owl student newspaper.)

CRETE -- At one point during her junior year at Doane, 1975 graduate Patti Severson remembers being so frustrated she almost dropped out. Trying to work and keep up with classes at the same time wasn't easy, but her parents wouldn't let her give up. Now, Severson has been teaching since she graduated and loves it.

"We never said she had to do it, but sometimes when you quit you don't go back," Patti's father Henry Bals said.

Even at 80, Patti's father still isn't a quitter. He finished one year at Doane before military service pulled him out of school after WWII. When he returned he enrolled in classes on the GI bill, which paid for his tuition. But soon life interrupted his schooling and he dropped out so he could work full time at the post office to support his growing family.

He was just one class shy of earning his diploma.

Last fall, it was Patti and her six sisters and two brothers' turn to encourage and support their father as he completed his last class in the education he always told them was so important. On May 18 he will do what not many could or would do at his age - graduate from college.

Finally.

Henry grew up on a farm outside of Crete and graduated from Crete High School in 1945. He attended Doane, where he played football for one year but reported to the draft board when he turned 18. The next two years he spent in the Navy, one of those on an air craft carrier near Hawaii, Guam and the South Pacific.

Though he wasn't sure what to do when he returned from the service, Henry said he went back to Doane because the GI bill paid for his school. But he also took the civil service exam and started a part-time job at the Crete post office, where he would work for nearly 40 years.

Just like his daughter Patti would discover later, working and going to school wasn't easy, especially when Henry was starting a family.

"Teachers were very tolerant with me missing class, but the post office was the first call," Henry said. "I'm not too sure my grades would have been that much better anyway [without working]," he added, chuckling.

Henry married his wife Nadine - the pitcher on the softball team he coached - on Aug. 4, 1951 in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church that would become a central focus in their family's life. They paid $25 dollars a month to live in veteran housing on the north side of campus, where Burrage and Colonial Halls are now located. 

Soon Henry and Nadine's first two daughters were born, and they were still living in the small apartments on campus. Henry continued to take history classes as a part-time student and was thinking about being a teacher, but the balance of his life started to lean more toward family and work.

"My part-time job got to be quite a few hours," Henry said.

Around the time their third daughter was born, Henry and Nadine moved to their first home in the north part of town, and eventually, the tuition money from the GI bill ran out and Henry dropped out of school.

"When the Post Office offered me a full-time job the pay and benefits seemed a lot better than being a teacher at the time, so I took it and forgot about school. I had three credits left."...

Read the Omaha World Herald story.