71 years after starting college, a 90-year-old woman is graduating

Dec 11, 2022, 8:06 AM
Joyce DeFauw's senior photograph from 1955, left, and the when she visited the college campus in Au...
Joyce DeFauw's senior photograph from 1955, left, and the when she visited the college campus in August 2022. (Photo courtesy of Joyce DeFauw/Northern Illinois University)
(Photo courtesy of Joyce DeFauw/Northern Illinois University)

(CNN) — A 90-year-old woman will finally walk across the stage and receive her diploma, 71 years after she first enrolled in college.

Joyce DeFauw, then Joyce Viola Kane, started her freshman year at Northern Illinois University in 1951 with a plan to graduate with a degree in home economics.

But those plans changed when DeFauw met a special man at church who stole her heart, she told CNN Thursday.

“I went to school for three and a half years, but decided to leave after I met him.” DeFauw said.

The special man was Don Freeman Sr. The two got married in 1955, and had three children together before Freeman passed away, leaving her widowed for about five years.

DeFauw eventually got remarried to her late second husband, Roy DeFauw. Together they had six children, including two sets of twins.

Throughout the years her family grew, and she now has 17 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.

Flash forward to 2019 when DeFauw showed interest in the college education she left behind.

“I guess I mentioned I was upset that I didn’t finish school and my children encouraged me to go back,” she said, so she enrolled back at Northern Illinois and began taking classes.

Jenna Dooley, one of DeFauw’s 17 grandchildren and an alumnus of NIU, told CNN it was more about the ‘why not’ versus the ‘why’, when DeFauw decided to go back.

Dooley said when she was growing up she’d visit her grandmother in her farmhouse where DeFauw would always be baking or cooking.

DeFauw used to be a Sunday school teacher as well. “She’s always had that love of teaching and learning,” Dooley said.

“When we made calls to the school about a previous enrollment, they were shocked to hear we were asking about a student from the 50s,” Dooley said.

But this time around, things were much different for DeFauw.

Instead of walking to campus to attend class, she did so behind a computer screen from her retirement home.

“It was my first computer,” DeFauw said, “My children had to teach me how to use it.”

Dooley added her uncle Don, DeFauw’s oldest son, helped set up the computer, get a camera for the computer and taught her how to navigate her school email.

When the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, she was thankful for the computer, Dooley said. “It worked out really well that she was already set up online,” She added.

She was on her own during that time and could have no visitors, Dooley said. “At times she’d get frustrated, but I kept reminding her that this was all a part of the process.” She added.

“At times I wanted to quit, but I didn’t.” DeFauw said. She said she had plenty of encouragement from family, friends and the school.

Director of Bachelor General Studies, Judy Santacaterina, was a huge help for DeFauw. Dooley said she took on the role of helping her grandmother get her degree and the entire family is grateful for Santacaterina.

DeFauw took one class each semester, including during the summer. “She’s very organized,” Dooley said, “She has a routine. She wanted to keep taking classes so she wouldn’t fall out of that routine.”

Now, three years later, she’ll put on the cap and gown and receive a Bachelor of General Studies degree from the university this weekend.

DeFauw is thankful she had the opportunity to get to go back to school and get her degree. “It’s nice to finish something you started,” she said.

Her piece of advice to those who may be in a similar situation: “Don’t give up,” she said, “I know it can be difficult, but everything in life has its ups and downs.”

“She has a gift of learning and teaching, so to be able to celebrate this with joy is the icing on the cake.” Dooley said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


Havasu Falls spills into the water pools below in Supai, Arizona, in October of 2016. Photo credit:...
Forrest Brown, CNN

Grand Canyon’s Havasu Falls to reopen to visitors after 3-year closure

 (CNN) — Havasu Falls, one of the most intriguing features of the Grand Canyon system, will be reopening to visitors after a three-year closure caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But it’s with a catch. The reopening is scheduled for February 1; however, access will be limited initially to a certain, small group. People whose previous […]
7 hours ago
Rep. George Santos leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on ...
Gregory Krieg, CNN

George Santos’ ex says congressman will never resign because ‘his ego is too big’

(CNN) — The former boyfriend of New York Rep. George Santos says the Long Island Republican facing growing calls to resign for extensively lying about his past will never do so, even as he faces multiple investigations, including into his finances. “His ego is too big. He’s not gonna resign. If they don’t find out something to get […]
7 hours ago
About 87% of Tuesday's US flight cancellations are Southwest, according to flight tracking website ...
Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace, CNN

US Transportation Dept. investigating Southwest holiday travel meltdown

The US Transportation Department said it is in the early stages of an investigation into the Southwest Airlines holiday travel meltdown in December.
1 day ago
School Shooting Newport News...
Aya Elamroussi, Chris Boyette, Dakin Andone and Michelle Watson, CNN

School board votes to cut ties with superintendent weeks after 6-year-old allegedly shot teacher

Administrators were warned that the child had a gun the day when a teacher was shot at the front door of Richneck Elementary School
1 day ago
Facebook-parent Meta said on Wednesday that it will restore former President Donald Trump's account...
Clare Duffy, CNN

Meta says it will restore Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts

It was not immediately clear whether Trump will return to the Meta platforms. Twitter restored Trump's account in November.
2 days ago
Earth core structure. Elements of this image furnished by NASA (Adobe stock)...
Lianne Kolirin, CNN

Earth’s inner core may have stopped turning and could go into reverse, study suggests

With a radius of almost 2,200 miles, Earth's core is about the size of Mars. It consists mostly of iron and nickel, and contains about about one-third of Earth's mass.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
71 years after starting college, a 90-year-old woman is graduating