A Life of Learning WWU's Oldest Student Turns 99

Most people count down the days to graduation from college with excitement and impatience. Desires to get out into the "real world" and experience life as an adult with a degree—getting a job, starting a family—overshadow everything else.

For Effie Pampaian, graduation was simply the end of one more chapter in what would prove to be a very long book of her life—a life focused on education.

Nearly 75 years ago, Pampaian enrolled in her first class at Walla Walla University. Five years later, in 1939, she became WWU's first female theology graduate.

Though she moved away from the valley after graduation, Pampaian returned to College Place, Wash., in 1999. She enrolled in classes at WWU once again. Auditing one at a time, Effie has completed 14 classes since then, including just about every single theology course.

Two years ago, at age 96, Pampaian reached the point where she could not drive herself to class. When fellow students heard this, they worked out a schedule to pick her up before class and take her home afterward. The professor's wife also offered Pampaian a ride occasionally.

On May 12, WWU recognized Pampaian as its oldest student in honor of her birthday. Pampaian turned 99 on May 16. At the university's Tuesday morning CommUnity, a weekly campus worship gathering, Darius Fleck, WWU estate planning services director, and John McVay, WWU president, presented her with a certificate and a bouquet of flowers.

Lured secretively to CommUnity by Fleck and his predecessor, Allan Fisher, Pampaian was excited to hear one of WWU's theology professors speak. When, at the start of the program, her name was called from the front, she playfully shook her head at Fleck and Fisher. They merely grinned and helped her to her feet.

Making her way with her walker to the front of the University Church, Pampaian was given the opportunity to say a few words in response.

"Even though things are difficult and don't seem to be getting any better," she advised the audience, "we must remain faithful and trust in the Lord."

The church filled with applause as Pampaian returned to her seat. She later told Fleck she was "overwhelmed with joy and honored" to be recognized.

Later that week, WWU's associated students printed a giant birthday card for Pampaian. The inside of the card was filled with signatures from students, staff and faculty, and on her birthday, Fleck visited Pampaian and presented her with the oversized card.

"Effie is a marvelous example of enthusiasm for lifelong learning," says Ginger Ketting-Weller, vice president for academic administration. "I suspect that if more among our elders followed her example, they, as well as our students, would find their lives enriched by classroom interactions between generations at WWU."

July 01, 2009 / Walla Walla University
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Becky St. Clair, WWU GLEANER correspondant