FARMINGTON — Taking mostly one course a year, it took a few years for Doris Gay to complete her studies for an associate degree from the University of Indiana.
With perseverance, the 81-year-old with physical challenges due to a childhood illness, graduated in December and just recently received her diploma for the degree in general studies.
Long before computers simplified the process, Gay began working toward a correspondence degree in 1982. She would complete each unit or lesson and mail it in and was allowed up to a year to complete a course.
She hopes to continue on to earn a bachelor of science degree but needs to find a new school first. She wants to study the Bible but the University of Indiana doesn't have a degree in religion, Cindy Kemble, Gay's mentor/adviser for the past several years, said.
She earned mostly A's and B's and a 3.5 grade point average, Kemble said.
Home-schooled by her mother, Helen Gay, a teacher herself, Gay earned her high school diploma through the American School, Kemble said.
Later working with her mother to provide childcare, local teacher Brenda Obert, who brought her children to the Gay home, helped her find a college and start working toward the degree.
Indiana's School of Continuing Studies' distance learning class offered what she needed and didn't require her attendance.
Kemble, formerly an assistant director of programs and testing at the University of Maine at Farmington, has continued the mentoring and provided testing for Gay's college courses.
The hardest part of working toward the degree was her lack of time, Gay said. Active in her church and community, she also likes being outdoors whenever she can.
“She's also a big procrastinator,” Kemble said teasingly.
The two shared her story as they waited to attend a Fairbanks School Meeting House board meeting. Gay initiated the building of a community center for the Fairbanks neighborhood after the old school burned in 1998.
Gay wrote a letter to the town, which owns the property, asking that the site not be sold for business purposes. Instead she sought community use of it for Fairbanks residents. The matter then went to a town meeting. The town continues to own the property but a Fairbanks School Meeting House board was started to oversee development of the property. Gay has served on the 14-member board since and likes to help with fundraisers as the group works to raise $15,000 a year to sustain the building.
During that period, the Fairbanks neighbors thought it would be good to have a local news column to share information about events. Gay took on the task and has continued writing a weekly column for the Franklin Journal since.
Most of the information for her column is shared by fellow parishioners at Fairbanks Union Church where Gay has taught Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and has been an active member.
She also helps organize an annual 4-H camp. Along with her mother, she helped lead a 4-H club for many years and earned a 50th year recognition as a club leader.
“I don't feel anywhere near my age,” Gay said.
“She doesn't act her age either,” Kemble said.
As she worked toward her degree, many of the courses were hard but one of her favorites was a writing course. She especially likes to write sermons and has just completed writing a play based on the history of Fairbanks. She intended to share it with the board during the meeting.