Archive for Wednesday, May 13, 1992

DECADES LATER, WOMAN FINISHES DEGREE

May 13, 1992

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It's routine for Kansas University students to take a semester or two off from school to get away from the rigor of academic life.

After the break, they return to finish degrees.

Althea Vratil of Larned had that in mind when she left KU in 1943 just 15 hours shy of graduating.

World War II and marriage conspired to deny her a sociology degree for nearly half a century.

Vratil, 69, will earn the right to call herself a KU alumna by walking down Campanile Hill during Sunday's commencement procession with the Class of 1992.

"This degree has been a lifelong ambition," she said. "It was something my mother had always wanted me to have. Twenty years ago this might not have meant as much to me as it does now."

Mrs. Vratil can recall sitting in Watkins Scholarship Hall and listening to radio news accounts of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. That event changed her life.

THE RESULTING entry of the United States in the war altered her college plans and those of her sweetheart, the late Frank Vratil, who was attending KU on a football scholarship.

Mr. Vratil was commissioned into the military in 1943.

"He wanted to get married before going overseas," she said.

Her decision wasn't easy. She had promised her parents, neither of whom attended college, that she would finish her degree. Complicating the situation was her mother's death in March 1943.

Mrs. Vratil sought the counsel of Esther Twente, a KU sociologist who pioneered social welfare education in Kansas.

"She was a very good friend of mine and a big influence in my life. She said I could be married and get the degree," she said.

THE COUPLE married May 28, 1943, and Mrs. Vratil finished another semester at KU while Mr. Vratil was overseas. When he returned to the states, he was transferred to Ohio. He was honorably discharged before Mrs. Vratil could enroll in Ohio State University. The couple moved to Larned.

"I started raising a family, and I felt that I was needed more at home than going to school," she said.

She raised three children. A daughter, Peggy Vineyard of Lenexa, and two sons, John of Overland Park and Jim of Larned, all attended KU.

After her husband's death in 1985, Mrs. Vratil returned to her college studies. She took 12 hours at Barton County Community College and three hours at Fort Hays State University.

She didn't give much thought to participating in KU's commencement until speaking with David Ambler, vice chancellor for student affairs, at a KU banquet last year in Larned.

"WHEN HE heard my story, he went back to KU and got the ball rolling," she said.

Ambler determined Mrs. Vratil lacked one course, the one she ended up taking from FHSU. He made certain her credits transferred from BCCC and FHSU.

"David is one of those people that KU needs more of. He has been wonderful to me. I think he's very good for the university," she said.

Mrs. Vratil is no stranger of KU. The Vratils traveled to Lawrence for 19 years to attend football games. She still works on behalf of KU's Alumni Association.

She also serves as a substitute teacher in the Larned, Lewis, Pawnee Heights and Macksville school districts.

"I'll just go on subbing as long as I feel I can do it, as long as they continue to call me. I like being with the kids," she said.

AMBLER and his wife, Mary Kate, will host a luncheon Saturday at the Adams Alumni Center for Mrs. Vratil. KU Chancellor Emeritus Raymond Nichols, a Larned native, plans to attend.

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