90-year-old Geneseo resident set to graduate from Northern Illinois University

Published: Dec. 4, 2022 at 11:59 PM CST
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GENESEO, Ill. (KWQC) - Some students take a gap semester or a gap year while away at college. One Northern Illinois University student is wrapping up her degree after taking nearly seven gap decades.

90-year old Joyce Viola DeFauw grew up a farmer’s kid in Geneseo, Illinois. At that time education looked much different than it does in 2022.

“I went to a one-room country school, they’re were probably eight to thirteen of us at the most,” DeFauw said. “I was always in the class myself ... The older grades would help the teacher with the younger grades.”

Upon graduating high school, DeFauw was able to get a scholarship to Northern Illinois State Teachers College in 1951

“I lived in a private home and walked to school because I didn’t have a car,” DeFauw said. “I worked weekends, so I didn’t get to go to any of my husky football games, except for one.”

Originally an elementary education major, DeFauw would switch to home economics. She only finished three and a half years of her studies, to start a family.

Her youngest daughter, Janette Dwyer said, DeFauw was still able to use what she learned in college.

“I didn’t realize how the things they taught us would serve me so well later in life,” Dwyer said. [I’m] very, very blessed to have such a good foundation.”

While parenthood took up most of her time, DeFauw worked for a catering business and taught Sunday school.

However, she would often find herself wanting to finish her degree

In 2019, her children would push DeFauw to do just that, returning to what is now Northern Illinois University.

“I can’t thank them enough,” DeFauw said. “There’s not words to express ... I have been given the ability and the time so why not? So I’m very grateful.”

She would take one class a semester to finish her degree, online, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dwyer hopes her mom’s story can inspire others.

“I wouldn’t say anybody could do it,” Dwyer said. I don’t know if I could do it, but it seemed like all the stars were in line.”

DeFauw has one more assignment to turn in on Monday. Then it’ll be time to celebrate with her friends and family which includes nine children, 17 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.

She will officially graduate Sunday, Dec. 11 with her degree, now in general studies. Upon crossing the stage in DeKalb she will be among the oldest students ever to graduate from NIU.