As a young wife and mother, Doris “Mickey” Douglas supported her husband as he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
Through decades of working administrative jobs in school districts where her husband taught, Douglas watched her children graduate from Chadron State College in western Nebraska.
But always in the back of her mind was the unfinished degree she herself had begun working on after her high school graduation in 1960.
On May 6, Douglas, who lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, accomplished that goal when she crossed the stage with her fellow graduates as part of the Class of 2023 at CSC, receiving her Bachelor’s of Interdisciplinary Studies – with honors.
“We are extremely proud of her,” said her daughter, Bridget Dubberley.
But Douglas is modest about the significance of her accomplishment.
“It was just something I always wanted to do,” she said. “And when the pandemic hit, I thought, ‘I am not going to sit in front of that TV for two years.’ So I just did it.”
Mickey Douglas grew up in Newcastle, Wyoming, graduating from high school in 1960, the first of her family’s generation to get her diploma.
She married her high school sweetheart, George Douglas, after he spent six months fulfilling his military obligation in South Dakota. But even then, Mickey was continuing her education.
“I went to the National School of Business in Rapid City during that time,” she said. “And then he came back in Julyand we got married, and he was recruited to play football at Chadron State.”
So with $13 between them, the newlyweds were off to college in Nebraska. Well, George was off to college. Mickey worked.
“I worked at a law firm, and I worked at the college as a secretary, and I did work at the switchboard,” she said. “At CSC, they had the switchboard in the main office, and it was the kind where you poke the little things into the relay board.”
But before her husband completed his degree, the couple decided they were set up enough that Mickey could take a few classes herself.
“His senior year, we had saved enough money, so I (took some classes),” she said. “That would have been 1964. And then from that time on, I just took classes wherever I could, if we had the money.”
Career In Academia
Mickey said she and George decided as a couple that he would be the one to be a full-time college student, even though both husband and wife had the aptitude to get their degrees.
“We decided he would have greater earning power than I would,” said Mickey. “So that's how we came up with, I would work and he would go to school. It wasn't a major sacrifice, it only made sense.”
George received his education degree from Chadron State College in 1964, and found work as a teacher in Jeffrey City, Wyoming, transferring soon after to Sheridan, where he was a teacher and coach.
Ten years later, the family returned to Chadron, where George earned a master’s degree in administration. While there, Mickey said she took a couple more classes.
“I actually took one class under (my husband),” she said. ”It was an aquatics class.”
After George received his master’s degree, the family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he earned a Ph.D. while Mickey worked for the state Department of Education. And all the while, she remained a supportive spouse.
“I actually typed his dissertation,” said Mickey. “That was the days of typewriters, and you had to lay that template on every page. You could not go out of the margin, and it had to be error free. So if you made mistakes, you had to start over.”
After George received his doctorate, he moved his family to the small town of Arthur, Nebraska, followed by a six-year stint in Laramie, and then a move to Murray State College in Oklahoma.
Although Mickey worked as a secretary in the school systems in Nebraska and Wyoming, by the time the family moved to Oklahoma, the couple decided Mickey could pursue her own academic dreams.
“I got my associate degree when we were in Oklahoma,” she said, while continuing to work, of course.
But the family wasn’t done moving around.
From Oklahoma to Kansas to Colorado, then back to Wyoming, George’s career determined the path the family would travel, although Mickey found work in every community they landed.
In the last years of George’s life after he retired, Mickey was still working as assistant coordinator at Central Wyoming College’s Lander campus, a position she held for 15 years until her own retirement 10 years ago at the age of 71.
It made sense that the three Douglas kids would attend Chadron State College. After all, the school was their home for a year of their childhood.
“We were dorm parents for a year at High Rise (dorm) while George was working on his master’s,” said Mickey. “It was the greatest year of our life. (It didn’t seem that way) at the time, of course, but looking back.”
In fact, all three siblings and their spouses chose Chadron for their post-high school education.
“My sister graduated there in 1989, my brother in 1991, and my husband graduated there in 1992 and (received his master’s in) 1994,” said Dubberley.
But just as meaningful is Mickey’s own family history in the Pine Ridge region of Nebraska, of which Chadron is the largest community.
“My grandparents were from there, and there's a cabin there that belonged to my great grandparents,” she said. “They took the cabin down and marked the logs and rebuilt it at the museum (in Chadron).”
It made sense that when Douglas decided to take the leap and complete that long-unfinished degree, she would return to the Nebraska panhandle. But she didn’t mince words with the admissions office at Chadron State.
“When I called them and said, ‘I want to do this,’ I said I wanted (my degree) in whatever I could get the fastest, because I don't have a lot of time,” she said with a laugh. “So this is how we ended up with (Interdisciplinary Studies).”
Because Douglas was choosing to work on her degree during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of her coursework would be online. Fortunately, she already had a significant number of Chadron State credits (which, remarkably, still counted toward her degree after 60 years), so she only needed 28 more.
And most of those classes were upper level.
“You have to take 400 level classes, and they had to be online,” said Douglas. “Almost all of them were basic literature — there was a health class in there, and an English class, but most of them were literature.”
College At 80
But even for a woman who spent most of her adult life working in education, Douglas ran up against some technology issues.
“I never had a computer class, but I've spent my entire life working on computers in some capacity,” said Douglas. “Like submitting the lessons, that got kind of complicated, but my grandson's girlfriend was my go-to. I just said, ‘It won't do this,’ and she would go, ‘Oh, you hit this, and you hit that,’ and it would go.”
Douglas said the bulk of her school work was reading, with a number of Zoom classes. But the various literature selections were eye-openers for her.
“I was much different than what I was used to or things that I had read, and some of that has just been really good, because I would not have read a lot of this on my own,” she said. “And I feel great about just seeing how everybody else thinks, especially the younger people.
“It doesn't mean I agree with everything, but I think it's important to know what young people are thinking and why.”
Of all people, Bridget and her husband Alan would be aware of how impressive an accomplishment Mickey’s graduation is. Douglas moved in with the Dubberleys six years ago, 13 years after her husband died.
“After my dad passed, I just said that I wanted her to feel like she was a part of a family,” said her daughter. “And my son got to grow up with his grandmother, and it's spectacular.”
Dubberley’s love for her mother is evident in the tears that spill from her eyes as she talks about the closeness of their family.
“When my son was in high school, all his friends would come over, and they had a nickname for her – ‘Smalls,’” said Dubberley. “And they all wanted to take her to prom. She's quite a lady. She's very special.”
But less than a year before Douglas planned to graduate from Chadron State College, major medical issues complicated her plans.
“This fall, I became septic with a kidney stone and I almost didn't make it,” she said. “And then two months later I had a heart attack.”
Dubberley credited the tenacity and determination of her mother in pushing on to the finish line, although they had to delay her graduation plans by a semester.
“We almost lost her twice,” said Dubberley. “She was pretty hard on herself. And she tried to go back to class and I just kind of said, ‘Mom, nope, that's not gonna happen right now. You’ve got to get your health back.’ So she did, and then she decided to go ahead and finish up in the spring.”
Dubberley said the entire family was involved in the planning of her mom’s graduation celebration.
“We started planning in January,” she said, with the entire family — grandkids and all — planning to attend.
“We all had a T-shirt, and it had her graduation picture on it,” said Dubberley. “And it said, ‘First Generation Graduate.’”
And even though Douglas’ classmates towered above her (she stands only 4-foot-11), a highlight of the graduation ceremony, even for other graduates, was the spry 81-year-old crossing the stage.
“(Even) when she went to cross for practice, everybody just erupted,” said her daughter. “It was kind of Mickey’s graduation, if I may say that.”
Mickey downplayed her family’s reaction to her accomplishment.
“The kids of course went crazy, and kids are like that,” she said. “But I didn't look at it as a big deal. It was just I've always wanted to do this. I'm just going to do it.”
Mickey said that she and her husband were very goal-oriented, and she feels that her graduation was just a part of a pattern that the couple set when they first started out together.
“A few years ago, I pulled up those goals that we had set, and I think he reached all of his,” she said. “And so I'm looking at mine, and that still was on there, that bachelor's degree. And so I was like, ‘Well, I just need to do it.’”
In fact, Mickey and her daughter are making plans to knock another item off Mickey’s lifetime to-do list.
“On my bucket list I want to visit all 50 states, and I have 11 left, I believe,” she said. “And so Bridget and I are going this summer and hit 10 of those. That 11th one is Hawaii, and that's going to take a little extra planning.”