Richland woman dedicated herself to studying to achieve the high school diploma she's always wanted

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Patricia Matheson found herself with some extra time, so she decided to get the high school diploma she's always wanted.

She's 87.

"Isn't it absolutely awesome? I'm still in awe," she says.

Matheson lives in Richland. She enrolled in the GED (high school equivalency degree) program at Blue Mountain Community College on Sept. 26, 2012, and received her diploma Nov. 6, 2013.

"She was determined - she had a goal and she stuck with it," says Ann Dennis, ABE (adult basic education)/GED instructor for BMCC.

Matheson never missed a class.

"She just brightens up the room when she walks in," Dennis said of her student, who greeted her with a hearty hug.

Matheson drove to Baker City - about an hour drive - for classes twice a week, often accompanied by her friend, Pearl DuMars.

"I'd wanted to get my diploma for a good many years. I was going to have one if it was the last thing I did," Matheson says.

In her youth, she'd completed school through her junior year before getting married. Then soon came a family - four daughters, all told - and her focus turned to family life.

She and her husband, Robert, moved to Richland in 1971. He died in 1992.

She's always been active in the community - she was an EMT (emergency medical technician) for 25 years, and was named Oregon's EMT of the Year in 2005.

She kept books for the Eagle Valley ambulance up until recent years.

Not one to be idle, she enrolled in school.

"It'd been 69 years since I'd been in a classroom," she says.

Her course work covered five subjects "beginning to end" - math, science, social studies, writing and reading.

It wasn't easy.

"I had not heard of an integer," she says of her math homework. "Now I know what that is."

Online testing saved her trips to La Grande, as well as the ease of retaking tests until she passed (third time was the charm in math).

She gives high praise to her daughter, Roberta Smith, who helped her study over the phone.

Smith, a retired school teacher, lives in Orem, Utah. She bought all the same school books as her mom.

"Roberta helped me through and through and through," Matheson says. "She helped me day and night, more than you can ever imagine."

Computers were also a new experience. Prior to this adventure, her use was "I turn it on, turn it off, email my girls."

When she traveled, she took her books to study. When she was home, she studied.

"None of my friends could believe it. They'd say 'how much longer so we can visit?'"

Now she has a diploma to frame and display.

And her next project?

"Cleaning my house. I neglected my house because of my homework," she says.