Fort Hays student celebrates 100th birthday

? A Kansas woman who was once the oldest college graduate in the world is about to wrap up her educational career at Fort Hays State University, saying she has other plans for her future.

In the meantime, Nola Ochs is taking time out from her studies to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Ochs, of Jetmore, was 95 when she earned a bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays in 2007. At the time, she was the world’s oldest graduate. She earned a master’s degree in 2010, was a graduate assistant last semester and is taking classes this semester.

But she said she doesn’t plan to enroll at Fort Hays next semester because she wants to work on a genealogy project and perhaps publish a book, The Hays Daily News reported.

Ochs, who was born Nov. 22, 1911, was the center of attention Tuesday at a Fort Hays basketball game, where she blew out candles on a birthday cake at center court and was serenaded by the crowd. About 100 people attended a reception for Ochs before the game.

More than 100 family members and friends, some from as far away as Germany, will celebrate the occasion Saturday in Jetmore.

Ochs gained international attention when she enrolled in on-campus classes at Fort Hays in 2006 and earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies in 2007. She earned a master’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in history in May 2010.

“I enjoyed it all,” Ochs said. “But I didn’t know what to expect, you know. One thing just followed another.”

Ochs was born in Illinois, later moved with her family to Nebraska and then to Jetmore. She started taking classes at Dodge City Community College after her husband of 39 years, Vernon, died in 1972. After taking an occasional class, she moved to Fort Hays from her farm southwest of Jetmore and completed the final 30 hours required for her degree.

Alan Ochs, the youngest of Ochs’ four sons, said his mom has stayed at Fort Hays because she truly enjoys taking classes.

“She just loves to study,” he said, shaking his head. “She can’t be related to me.”

He remembered when his mom first proposed the idea of returning to college.

“She asked me, ‘Do you suppose it would be stupid for me to move up there and stay and go to school?’ I told her, ‘You know, if you want to do that, we’ll move you up there.’ It’s as simple as that. … The rest is history.”

Ochs said she has a good start on a book about her life experiences.

“I’ll call it ‘Nola Remembers’ … and I depend on the name Nola to sell it,” she said, laughing.