News - Portrait of Persistence: Determined Alumna Graduates at Age 88

Portrait of Persistence: Determined Alumna Graduates at Age 88

By Carla Morris

Don't be fooled by Katherine Nally's gentle grandmotherly demeanor and cautious walk with a cane. Her Nally-graduateiron will and perseverance pack a powerful punch.

Last May, at age 88, the Louisville (KY) resident crossed the commencement stage at Campbellsville University in her hometown to receive her bachelor’s degree. The triumph ended a journey she began nearly 70 years earlier and 250 miles away in Illinois as a freshman at Greenville University. 

And, while Louisville media heralded Katherine’s steely determination to earn her degree, another inspirational gem about her character flew under the radar. It came to light the summer before she graduated via a letter she wrote to her first alma mater. The topic? An unpaid balance she recalled leaving on her student account.

“I want to make it right,” she wrote.

Campus Life Take One: Just Loving It

Katherine spent her youth steeped in responsibilities. At age 13, she cared for her MS-stricken mother and younger siblings. At the same time, she helped extend hospitality to the parishioners of the church her father pastored.

“Always do what you can to serve,” he taught her.

“I learned so much,” she recalls of that time and those demands.

Forced to grow up quickly, it’s no surprise that Katherine treasured her independence as a freshman on the Greenville campus. Though she underperformed academically—a fact she regrets to this day—she cherished her experiences.  

Katherine-Nally-Vista“I loved my time at Greenville,” she wrote. “It was my first time to enjoy being carefree and young. I just enjoyed myself so much.”  

Sadly, Katherine did not have the funds to return her sophomore year. She tucked the dream of pursuing a college degree away and landed a job instead. She married her sweetheart, Joe, and set up housekeeping. With the arrival of three children, the dream stayed buried under all the busyness that goes with raising a family.

Loving College . . . Again

But more than 40 years later, Katherine pulled the dream out and dusted it off. At sixty-something, she enrolled in courses at the University of Louisville. Equipped this time with abundant life experiences and a mature outlook, she attacked her studies with resolve.

“It mattered to me to make good grades,” she said . . . and she did.

Then Joe’s health failed. Katherine, accustomed to serving others, once again put the dream on hold and returned to work: “We had so many bills.”

She managed the human resources department for the Louisville Area Command of the Salvation Army and chipped away at the debt. In time, she erased it, and finally, at age 75 and a half, she settled in to a well-deserved retirement.

Several years later, after 56 years of marriage, Joe died.

The loss was devastating. Katherine found that keeping busy helped her cope. Thoughts of finishing her degree resurfaced, and the opportunity at Campbellsville University arose.

The technology landscape in education had changed dramatically since Katherine’s last foray into the classroom. This time around, she needed to learn software and how to access online resources, post comments on discussion boards and more.

“I had to relearn how to study,” she recalls.

Nally-pianoSelf Satisfaction

Katherine made the Dean’s List and then the President’s List. The achievements pleased her, but her motivation to finish her degree came from within—“for my self satisfaction,” she says.

She cites the same reason for wanting to settle the nearly 70-years-old unpaid balance on her Greenville University account.  

“Many times I just forgot about owing the money,” she wrote, “but it has been on my mind a lot lately, and I want to make it right. I truly enjoyed my time at Greenville. I only wish I could have been able to keep on attending there.” 

G.U. had long forgiven the debt, so Katherine opted to fund scholarships that help students who face financial hardship. It’s a satisfying solution that echoes her father’s words: “Do what you can to serve.”

What’s next for Katherine? Advanced studies look attractive.

“I’ve thought about my master’s degree,” she says, but confesses that she’s not sure if she’s up for it.

Learn More

Characters of Kentuckiana: The Super Senior
After a Lifetime of Putting Herself Second, Our 88-Year-Old Mom of the Year Graduates
A Novel Retirement, A Life of Adventure
Retirement Redefined

G.U. Financial Champions like Katherine provide financial relief to students every day through scholarships funded by The Greenville University Fund. Thank you for giving.

Photos courtesy of Campbellsville University, used with permission. Graduation photo - photographer Joshua Williams; Katherine at piano: photographer Joshua Christian

This story was published on February 22, 2019




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