Crossing The Finish Line

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - 3:32pm

99-year-old graduate wraps receives degree he walked away from in 1932.

He's just two months shy of turning 100, and a few days ago a Redmond, Washington man received his college diploma from Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.

Back in 1932, Leo Plass was less than one semester away from graduating from what was then called Eastern Oregon Normal School.

Teaching was his future, but the "present" kept him from it.

It was the Depression, and a teaching salary of just $80 a month wouldn't cut it.

When a friend offered him a spot in a logging outfit, Plass couldn't pass it up.

"He offered me $150, and it was the Great Depression," Plass said Tuesday. "That was a lot of money - a lot of money."

So at the age of 20, Plass dropped out and tried his hand in logging.

He'd later learn he was just a few credits short of his teaching degree.

"They told me I just had three hours to go," said Plass. "I said, 'Gee, too bad you didn't tell me that then -- I would have stayed there all night to just get those three hours in.'"

Looking back, the spry 99-year-old who's still passionate about carpentry says he's not really sure why he wanted to be a teacher.

Although he does think his fellow graduates could stand to learn a thing or two.

"They don't teach youngsters things they need to know about," said Plass. "When I was in school, that's about all they did teach. You learned how to cook, you learned how to sew and how to type."

Those skills would get Plass through dozens of jobs.

As for what it took for the new graduate to reach nearly the century mark?

"Good family, good life, good food," Plass said. "I had two good cooks, my mother and my wife. Everything good seemed to work for me."

With all that good in his life, Plass didn't expect things to get even better.

Then he put on his cap and gown.

"Never dreamed of something like this happening to me," said Plass, who received an associate's degree. "It's out of this world."

Plass said even though years and years separate him and his fellow EOU graduates, they have one unfortunate thing in common.

And that's that then and now, jobs are few and far between.

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