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Lifelong degree quest fulfilled

Dorothy Mancini, 79, will be one of the oldest graduates in the 45-year-history of the University of South Florida.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


HOLIDAY -- It hasn't been your average college experience.

Dorothy Mancini missed one semester at the University of South Florida when her husband had triple heart bypass surgery.

She nearly missed another when she had a quintuple bypass of her own last summer.

All the while, she has ignored the antics of her art studio classmates, many just a quarter of her age.

"She knows what she wants and she's going to get it," said Professor Ryan Berg, who taught Mancini's ceramics class this semester. "If there's a bunch of pink-haired potty-mouths running around, she just works through it.

'She doesn't even flinch.'

Mancini will become one of the oldest graduates in the school's 45-year-history

"I don't look my age, though," she said. "That's from staying busy all the time, I think."

Busy with homework, art projects and research on the Internet.

Mancini, who moved here in 1972 from New Jersey, will earn a degree in fine arts.

She loves art -- more than 60 years ago she used to get out of high school classes to help decorate the school auditorium for assemblies -- and she's always valued education. She just hasn't been able to work on hers.

Mancini's father died when she was 8, so when she graduated from high school in Newark, N.J. -- class of 1940 -- she went to work.

She worked for an insurance company, a food wholesaler and the U.S. Postal Service. She was the first female letter carrier in New Jersey, she said.

All the while, she put her three kids through school, giving them a dime for every A. She also paid for one of her grandchildren to get a nursing degree.

Two of her kids have masters degrees. One has a doctorate in organic chemistry.

They will all be in Holiday on Saturday to celebrate with their mother and father, 88-year-old Edmund.

Dorothy started taking classes at St. Petersburg Junior College in Tarpon Springs 11 years ago. She took an English composition course by television, which allowed her to view the lectures at home. She got a B and realized she could do this college thing.

She took her SATs, finished her required classes and graduated from SPJC in 1995.

Then she enrolled at USF, taking one or two classes each semester. She saved ceramics for last so she wouldn't have a final exam this spring.

Her diploma will say Dorothy, but it's been a team effort for the Mancinis, who have been married 58 years.

Dorothy doesn't drive, so Edmund, who dropped out of high school to start working, drove her to her college classes in Tampa. Sometimes she studied in the car. While she went to class, he read books. They often met for lunch in the cafeteria.

He's proud of her. And she's proud of herself.

She has nearly a 3.5 grade-point average. She's also been a member of three honor societies.

"That's pretty good," she said.

Her artwork hangs around her house and her children's houses.

"That's ink and watercolor on rice paper," she said, pointing to a picture of butterflies and bamboo in her family room.

"No smudges. Do you know how hard it is to not smudge?"

Mancini's next challenge will be filling her time. She already volunteers once a month to teach art at Community Hospital of New Port Richey. She would like to teach kids.

Edmund is done driving to Tampa, so a master's degree is out of the question, he said, but a planned college expansion in nearby Tarpon Springs could change Mancini's plans.

"If SPJC becomes a four-year college, maybe I'll go down and learn something else," she said.

"That's an idea."

-- Ryan Davis covers higher education and social services in Pasco. He can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 3452. Discuss this and other topics in our online discussion forum at http://www.sptimes.com/pascoforum.

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