By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Staff Writer
Deanne Rehm insists there’s nothing extraordinary about her graduating from SUNY Adirondack last weekend — at age 81. Her degree is an Associates in Science, Individual Studies.
Ms. Rehm is the retired longtime Town Assessor for Queensbury, Lake George and Bolton. She was also Town Supervisor of Bolton for six years; three terms from 1997 to 2001.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being with the 20-year-olds,” she said of her college experience. “It’s good for me at my age. My takeaway is we are in good hands. There are a lot of smart young people out there. There are always some rotten bad apples in every time, but it won’t be this generation that ends things.”
Ms. Rehm said the people she’s met at the college are far more extraordinary — they juggle jobs and families and still find the time to devote to their education with night classes, or whatever it takes.
“I married right out of high school,” Ms. Rehm said, “and right away I had a family. I didn’t apply myself like these people do.”
Those who recall Ms. Rehm’s high-profile local career might be surprised to hear her say, “I was always a little embarrassed that I didn’t get my degree until I was 81 years old. There’s no good excuse for that.”
Her one motivation for even talking about it for a newspaper story?
“If there’s any takeaway, its that we really have a gem in the local community college. For people who can’t afford private college, or have a family or a job and can’t go off to school, I admire the heck out of those people. SUNY Adirondack is a place that works for a lot of people.”
25 years off
Ms. Rehm earned her degree in two stages — taking “a few classes” about 25 years ago, mostly interested in business “to improve myself,” she said. Then came the assessor gig and her three terms as Bolton Supervisor: “They all interfered,” she said.
Finally retired, she went back for more.
“I never really had a goal. I just took what I like, Business, International Relations. One of the advisors said to me, ‘you know, you’ve got so many credits. If you just take this class and this, you’ll have enough proper credits to get a degree.’”
“They didn’t mind there were 25 years between. It all still applied.”
She paused one last time during the Covid pandemic. “What I loved was the exchange back and forth with the professor, the discussion. Once it went remote, I had no interest in Zoom. I like the connections we make in the classroom.”
The kids are alright
“I was in biology lab and everyone had to have a lab mate. I’m sitting in a room of 18- to 20-year-olds. I know none of them. They all have friends, choose lab mates. I was left, and across the tables I see three people at one table, and this one young man, he looks at me. I said ‘Oh, sure, c’mon over.’”
The result: “We had the best time. He was so extremely helpful. I’m in bifocals looking through the microscope. He’d help. We laughed a lot. He even asked me to join with the other kids in a study group. If he thought it was a chore or awful to be with this older person, he never let on.”
She says, “I was pleased with the whole exposure to this generation. It was charming to find, they just treated me like somebody else in the class.”
She liked government and history classes. An Ethics class she took to fulfill requirements, “I enjoyed a lot because we got to talk about issues, abortion, right to die. The discussions were really interesting.” A Civil War history class, another on the U.S. Constitution turned out to be relative to current events. “We were required to watch all of the presidential debates and critique them in the 2016 election. I learned a lot.”
“Everyone was extremely supportive,” Ms. Rehm says. The school allowed her to audit a math class in advance of fulfilling the credit requirement. “Math today, everything is with the backup of this thing, have you heard of it, a graphing calculator. Well, I was having a devil of a time with it.”
She was directed to the math lab, where she met “a wonderful tutor, who really helped me, and he did it in such an easy, non-demeaning way. We really got along. He’s retired from GE, and tutors math two afternoons a week.
“I didn’t take much away from the math, but I did realize now how young people are doing the math, and that was another person I made a connection with. It was a great experience.”
“At this juncture I don’t think I need to boast about having a degree I should have long since accomplished,” is Ms. Rehm’s thought.
The message, she says, is “SUNY Adirondack is such a gem,” accessible for anyone in any situation — or at any age — to continue learning. Degree in hand, Ms. Rehm says she plans to continue taking classes, “in things I’m interested in.”
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