Feb 05, 2013

Columbia State Experience Conferred More Than A Degree

Diversity of Student Body Created Broad Range of Friendships

Loretta Washburn attended Columbia State's first night classes in Lawrenceburg and earned her Associate's Degree in 1976, when she was 58. Now 91, she looks back on the experience as one that not only helped in her work as a Title I teaching assistant, but continues to have a great impact on her life.

"It's done so much for me, in terms of the contacts and experiences I've had." Then-future Columbia State president, Dr. Paul Sands, taught her first class, and she still counts him as a friend. She also sees fellow students regularly in the course of her very active days.

"The young people in the class were the same age as my children, and there were several older students, others who were working in the school system. Dr. Sands invited us to share our experiences with the class . . . it was just an interesting combination of people."

Mrs. Washburn has had plenty of experiences to share. She graduated from high school in her native St. Louis in 1935, when there were no jobs to be found - "a lot worse than it is today," she said. She eventually got a clerical job with the New Deal's Works Progress Administration and later made a successful bid on a position with the United States Public Health Service in Washington, D.C. One of her co-workers was her late husband, a native of Lawrence County, Tennessee.

After transfers to New Orleans and back to Washington, her husband retired due to illness. The couple and their three children moved to the family farm in Summertown, where many predicted Mrs. Washburn "would never make it." It was the early 1950s and Summertown had not had electricity for very long. "I was a city girl. I never even thought of where water came from. All I knew was that you turned on the tap and it was there."

She not only adjusted to the change, she became and remains an integral part of the community. A well-known advocate for education, she worked 20 years at Summertown High School and was one of several leaders responsible for raising funds to build the Lawrence County Campus of Columbia State in the late 1980s.

"It is such a wonderful school. I tell young people whenever I can that the opportunity to get an education is right here for you. I would like to take some more classes, myself - maybe some of the non-credit courses, at this point."