79-Year-Old Oregonian Wrapping Up Associate’s Degree

BEND, Ore. — With her pink backpack, jeans and sneakers, Billie Gibson in some ways is like many other Central Oregon Community College students. But a couple of things set her apart: She’s 79 years old, and she’s getting her associate degree in June in computer information systems.

“I’ve got more A’s than B’s,” she said modestly. “You’re never too old to learn something new.”

Gibson started taking classes in 2005, paying for them as she could. This spring, she’ll finish up.

Gibson travels from La Pine two days a week for business communication and speech classes. Next term, though, she’ll be at the college Monday through Thursday for classes in stress management, cultural anthropology, drawing and fitness first-aid.

It’s a big course load, but the four classes will give her the credits she needs to finish her degree.

She’s required to take the first-aid class, and she thought stress management might be interesting. It’s also in the same building as the first-aid class, which means she won’t have to run across campus from one class to another.

“Parking’s a premium,” she said, laughing.

It’s a fitting move for a woman who has spent her life doing new things out of her comfort zone.

She took some community college courses and has taught noncredit courses on software through the years. Having worked as a property appraiser with the Oregon Department of Revenue for many years, she returned there to work.

That’s how she got involved with computers, in 1982, when she was chosen to train people at the department on its computer programs.

“At first it was scary,” she said. “I cried a lot, because it was like a whole new language … but it was the best thing that could have happened. Once I got over the intimidation, I liked it.”

She spent the next 24 years working with computers in some capacity. Gibson is involved with the Assemblies of God Church, and her work and faith took her to Missouri, Texas and even Nigeria, where she set up a database to track students studying overseas. That work taught her to value the life she has here in the United States.

“It’s a totally different world,” she said.

Originally from Texas, Gibson has lived in different places over the years, and in Oregon several times. Eventually, though, after all of those journeys, Gibson felt the call to return to Oregon, and she came back in 2004. She began taking classes at COCC in 2005, and she’s been plugging along ever since.

Lowell Lamberton, who this term is teaching Gibson’s business communication class, said she’s been a delight and has done every possible piece of extra-credit work, something only about one-fifth of his classes do. She’s getting an A in the class, Lamberton said. He didn’t even have to look in his grade book to be sure of that.

“She works ahead,” he said. “She doesn’t just stay up with things. She’s ahead of the game.”

Even though Gibson is older than most students at COCC, she’s still part of the gang.

“The students really like her. They don’t seem to treat her as a parent figure,” Lamberton said. “She’s an equal one of them, which is remarkable. It is delightful for me to see someone her age helping someone of a younger age with computer issues.”

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