100-year-old receives honorary degree

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Northwood resident Lucille Rudolph moves her tassel to the other side during an honorary graduation ceremony at the retirement community in Jasper on Friday. At 100 years old, graduating high school has always been a dream of hers. With the help of Sindy Harris from the adult education program at Vincennes University Jasper and Northwood staff, Rudolph and her family celebrated her achieving that goal.


JASPER — For a moment, it didn’t seem real.

Her tiny body cloaked in a gown and her short hair covered by a tinseled cap, Lucille (Baker) Rudolph accepted the coveted document with a misty-eyed smile.

High school was a lifetime ago for the 100-year-old Jasper woman. But learning has never stopped.

Friday, in front of family and other guests at Northwood Retirement Community, Lucille received an honorary High School Equivalency GED from Vincennes University. She is the only person to ever be named an honorary graduate of the college.

Her granddaughter, Ginger Hedinger, recalled a special moment from the gathering that encapsulated how much the distinction meant to Lucille.

“Did you see when they handed her the actual diploma?” Ginger asked. “And she realized it’s really a diploma? I think that’s when it really hit her. She plays it off, but she loves it.”

Lucille attended Alfordsville High School for two years beginning in 1933. Official handwritten transcripts show her efforts in algebra, biology, music, English, Latin and a variety of other classes.

Northwood Retirement Community resident Lucille Rudolph smiles as her great great grandson Judah Allgaier, 1, of Lafayette, reaches for her tassel during an honorary graduation ceremony at the nursing home in Jasper on Friday. At 100 years old, graduating high school has always been a dream of hers.

Her memories from those days are fading. While earning a diploma had remained a dream for decades, she stressed that her knowledge never stopped growing when she left the classroom.

“I didn’t stop learning something,” she said of her post-secondary life. “I did a lot of 4-H work and stuff like teaching Sunday School, and a lot of that kind of stuff. So, learning never stops. Because I’m still learning.”

When Lucille was 16, she met her future husband, Gwen Rudolph. They both worked at a tomato canning factory, caught each other’s eyes and dated for two years before tying the knot.

They were married for 75 years that were filled with love, hard work and travel. Lucille has memories of helping Gwen — who many knew as Rudy — on the family’s Dubois County farm in Boone Township, near Pike County.

Gwen died in 2013 at the age of 95. The two had four children: Sharon Held of Lafayette, Jim Rudolph of Jasper, Ed Rudolph of North Carolina and the late John Rudolph. They have given their mother many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even a great-great-grandchild.

Jennifer Wilson, office manager in marketing at Northwood, explained that the retirement community staff felt compelled to take steps to make Lucille’s dream of getting a GED a reality. Wilson reached out to the state to inquire about the award, after which she was connected to Vincennes University.

Northwood resident Lucille Rudolph shakes hands with Lauren Bell, Vincennes University's Director of Adult Education, during an honorary graduation ceremony at the retirement community in Jasper on Friday.

“Things have changed so much over the years,” Wilson said. “Back then, it was just kind of expected that she wasn’t going to graduate. And she started life and [was] very successful, and it just became a thing of the past. But I think deep down, she always wanted to walk that walk and have that day.”

The funny and thoughtful centenarian keeps a sharp mind. She loves reading books and the newspaper, working out word scramble puzzles, going to Bible study and talking to loved ones on the phone. She is also an avid painter — a selection of her charmingly brushed canvases hung around the Northwood lobby that she proceeded through on her way to receiving the diploma.

“She’s a lifelong learner, she’s worked hard, she’s raised a great family,” Lauren Bell, director of adult education at VU, said of Rudolph. “And we like to see dreams come true. And that’s what we do in our business. Help people achieve their dreams.”

Wilson envisioned Friday’s event as a life celebration. She shared a quote by Harold B. Melchart at the gathering that she believes captures Lucille’s spirit and personal journey through the years.

“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain,” Wilson said, reading the message. “An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point.”

And many beautiful scenes wait ahead for the recent graduate.

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