The short walk Nancy McClure will take across the stage on her graduation day will be nothing compared to the journey it took for her to get there. At 49 years old, she’s may not the oldest student to graduate from Columbia College, but she’s one of the liveliest.


McClure began taking classes at Columbia College in 2006 at the urging of a friend. Already a wife, mother, grandmother and even a soldier serving a tour in Iraq, McClure knew better options lay before her with an education. She had dreamed of school before, but had set it aside to get married and raise a family. Even serving in the military was a dream, but back in the ’70s, the military didn’t allow women to serve and she was turned away.


The short walk Nancy McClure will take across the stage on her graduation day will be nothing compared to the journey it took for her to get there. At 49 years old, she’s may not the oldest student to graduate from Columbia College, but she’s one of the liveliest.

McClure began taking classes at Columbia College in 2006 at the urging of a friend. Already a wife, mother, grandmother and even a soldier serving a tour in Iraq, McClure knew better options lay before her with an education. She had dreamed of school before, but had set it aside to get married and raise a family. Even serving in the military was a dream, but back in the ’70s, the military didn’t allow women to serve and she was turned away.

When she was 37, both her daughters enlisted in the Missouri National Guard, and two days later, so did she.

The memories of being turned away stuck with McClure, driving her through boot camp. While others had every bump and scrape nursed and cared for, McClure steered clear of the medics because she was afraid they would send her home due to her age. By the time boot camp ended, she had pneumonia.

And perseverance and tenacity.

The only woman in the company, she was also surrounded by a group of men that quickly grew into a family. McClure was their mom. When they were deployed to Iraq, the men pooled their rations and surprised McClure with a sewing machine.
McClure said it was one of the best gifts she’s ever received, and she set to work mending uniforms.

When they got back from Iraq, McClure took a few classes here and there.
In her early 40s, she was sitting next to students in their early 20s. As she juggled a career in the military, a husband and a growing family (both her daughters had recently given birth), her classmates were discussing that weekend’s plans. McClure was wondering when she was going to be deployed again.

“It was intimidating,” McClure said. “I was doing everything I could to keep up. But, I was frustrated.”

At the urging of a friend, she signed up for a math class with Dempsey Hamner at the last possible minute. She earned a B in the class when before she struggled to earn passing grades. She credits Hamner with changing her outlook on learning so late in life.

From there, McClure was hooked. She took classes whenever, and wherever, she could. McClure said found a particular connection with history professor Jim Paisley.

“History wasn’t just facts and figures,” she said. “The people came alive.”

Paisley encouraged her to become a researcher herself and to find the answers to her own questions. When McClure was deployed again, they exchanged emails full of ideas and stories.

“I love it when students are successful,” Paisley said about McClure. “When a student can dive in with both feet and really get into it. That’s how the really great stories are spread.”

Paisley said he felt the two shared a kinship because both started their educations later in life. Paisley began his in his 30s when he found himself unemployed.
McClure said she wants to teach only after the military discharges her. After graduation, her plans are to begin taking classes toward her master’s degree. She hasn’t declared the degree yet but is leaning towards history.

“I’m like a sponge,” McClure said. “I think human beings need to learn. If you don’t learn and don’t pass it on, you’ll die.”

Contact Lake Sun reporter Deanna Wheeler at deanna.wheeler@lakesunonline.com.