Honoring a Grad Who Spent Half
a Century Pursuing Her Degree
May 26, 2004
“Joining Continuing Learning Experience
was to be my reward,” reports Colleen Howard Hefley, a proud
member of Cal State Fullerton’s Class of 2004, having earned
a bachelor’s degree in business administration – finance.
The 70-years-young graduate, who will be recognized
at the university’s May 28 Honors Convocation and take part
in commencement exercises Saturday, May 29, is this year’s
recipient of CLE’s annual award to one of the oldest graduating
seniors “who reflects CLE’s appreciation for learning
Listed in the commencement program as a cum laude
January 2004 graduate, Colleen had pursued her degree intermittently
since 1955. As the completion of her studies drew near, she marched
over and joined CLE “to stave off withdrawal symptoms.”
Established 25 years ago, CLE is a self-governing
university support group of approximately 750 retired and semiretired
individuals dedicated to the pursuit of lifelong learning. It offers
a variety of classes, travel and other activities and is headquartered
on campus in the Ruby Gerontology Center.
Colleen moved to California when she was three. She
was born in Oklahoma, where her grandmother taught school for 60
years. Once she graduated from San Bernardino High School –
fourth highest in her class – UCLA beckoned.
However, her parents were reluctant to see their only
child living alone in Los Angeles. So after a year at San Bernardino
Valley Junior College, Colleen joined the work force at Pioneer
Title Insurance Co., where she worked for about two years. While
there, she met and married Lee Hefley, just out of the Navy in 1953.
After attending Art Center College, Lee spent 37 years as an engineering
designer at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton.
In 1962, the family – with a son and daughter
ages 7 and 2 years, respectively – moved to Fullerton, where
Colleen continues to reside. She had been taking GED courses since
their first- born was a year old. She planned to become a teacher,
but eventually realized that she wouldn’t finish in time to
start a career. Undaunted, Colleen began studying to become a library
technician after serving for six years as a volunteer at the Rolling
Hills PTA Library. This, too, proved less than feasible when combined
with caring for the family, which came to include both of her parents.
Compounding her difficulties was the gradual onset of a hearing
At some point, Colleen met with a counselor who reminded
her that there are better reasons to get a degree than just to prepare
for a job. “College work expands horizons, gives new depth
to our view of the world,” he pointed out. Colleen had not
thought about that aspect of learning. “Pursuing a degree
fosters self confidence,” the counselor emphasized.
“And besides,” Colleen says, “learning
That’s when she decided to get a degree anyhow,
job or not. She first attended Fullerton College, then transferred
to Cal State Fullerton in 1994. Two years later, she faced another
roadblock — her husband was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s
disease) and died in 2000.
Because of her late husband’s four-year illness,
Colleen took a leave of absence from classes with just 24 units
to go. After his death, when she thought of returning, the required
number of units seemed overwhelming. Nevertheless, she returned
with a reduced study load, focusing on one semester at a time.
Now, CLE has begun to fill Colleen’s days. She
continues to appreciate the Grief Support group members at Evangelical
Free Church in Fullerton for their kindness and support.
This year has been a banner year, Colleen reports,
with more credits in the happiness column than she had anticipated.
There’s the diploma with all the years of work it represents;
the GPA of 3.74 echoing her superior accomplishments in high school
so long ago; and then the CLE award, a happy surprise. Then, too,
there’s Becky, her step-granddaughter, with a 4.0 GPA in her
freshman year at Cal State Fullerton.
||CLE at 657-278-2446
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