In August, Roberta Hamper, at the age of 69, graduated from Ohio State University with her bachelor's degree in Human Ecology. For most people, such an accomplishment would be the exclamation point on a lifetime of learning. But for Roberta, it's more like a comma.
This month, she's off to South Africa for a month-long photography tour. When she comes back, she'll keep hacking away at the 50 boxes still in storage from rebuilding her and husband Don's northwest Columbus home after a catastrophic 2008 fire. Next year, she and daughter Anietra Hamper, a 10TV news anchor, will take off on a trip to the Philippines.
Oh, and she might begin work on a graduate degree at OSU.
"We never did the trip to Cedar Point thing," Anietra recalled of her childhood. "Everything we did with her was learning in some way. If we went to San Antonio, she took us to the Alamo. And when they were building that interchange at Rte. 315 and I-270 (in the 1980s), she took us up there to dig for concretions."
While Don drove, and still drives, a truck for a living, Roberta raised Anietra and their two sons, Shay and Keir, also a truck driver who died in a trucking accident in 1988. It was in the aftermath of that tragedy that Roberta slowly ventured into doing more traveling with her Nikon D800 camera.
"I was horrified to fly, but I decided to get over it," she said with what seems to be characteristic pragmatism and pluck. Now, more than a decade later, the Hampers' modest ranch-style home is filled with extraordinary artifacts from six continents, along with the antiques and artwork Roberta and Don had collected already.
"Growing up, I thought everyone's house looked like a museum," Anietra said. "But it all helped us grow up to be very interested and engaged people."
In getting her OSU degree, Roberta is part of a still-growing number of women, many of whom disrupted their college educations to raise families. At OSU, the number of "non-trads," as non-traditional students, ages 30 and older, are known in the academic world, has risen about 33 percent since 2001. And the biggest growth has come within the segment of women ages 50 and older.
"I always liked school and it was a personal goal," Roberta said of her decision to resume her college studies 14 years ago, after 32 years away from the classroom. "I took classes one at a time or one quarter at a time."
The math and statistics classes were not favorites, but Roberta relished the women's studies and education courses, once devising a research project to see how old children are when they noticed physical disabilities in others.
"I took an arm off a Barbie doll, drew spots on her face, I may have even cut off all her hair," Roberta said. "At young ages like 4 and 5, they didn't notice it. But by the first or second grade, they did and it also seemed like the parents' attitudes influenced them by then. And that was when bullying started, too."
Roberta has no desire to do anything but keep learning, whether here in Central Ohio or in small Asian or African villages.
"Always continue to grow through knowledge of a new skill, travel,or just reading a book," Roberta offered as advice to others. "We are all different with different ideas and ambitions. Itis never too late to reachthose goals."