Many William Woods University students graduate with more than one degree, but have you ever heard of someone graduating with three?
Arlene Jackson of Fulton is thought to be the only person in WWU history to have earned degrees at three different levels. She has an A.A., a B.A. and an M.Ed.—earned over the span of 37 years.
A 1956 graduate of Wauwatosa High School in the Milwaukee, Wis., suburbs, she spent that summer as a traveling companion for her aunt who was traveling to South America to visit her husband, an engineer working in Brazil.
On board the ship, she met the man she would eventually marry—Vernon Jackson, the ship’s surgeon. They carried on a long-distance courtship “when special delivery letters cost only a quarter” and married two years later.
Meanwhile, that fall she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next semester she transferred to the University’s Milwaukee campus, closer to home.
In November 1958, she married Jackson, who had moved to Fulton a few months earlier to be a staff ophthalmologist at Fulton State Hospital and to start a small private practice. As a newcomer to the community, the bride started classes at William Woods two months later.
Studying and taking care of their apartment on Court Street kept her quite busy, but she graduated in January 1960, with an associate of arts (A.A.) degree.
Reminiscing about those days, she said, “Not only was William Woods just a two-year school back then, but the administration building was the northernmost building on the campus, if you can believe it. Any farther and you would find pastures with livestock and woods with wildlife.”
Five months after her graduation, Arlene gave birth to the couple’s only child. She’s extremely proud of her son, Bil, who is now principal clarinetist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Aspen Chamber Orchestra. He also is a faculty member of the Aspen School of Music, the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Texas (he commutes by plane).
Bil resides in Lakewood, Colo., with his wife, Callie, and their three children: Cassie, 10, and four-year-old twins, Hannah and Carter.
After Bil’s birth in June of 1960, Arlene was a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t return to William Woods until six years later, when she enrolled as a part-time student, pursuing a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) in elementary education.
“With Vernon, who was a big part of the community for 42 years, urging me and encouraging my continual learning, I was able to graduate in May 1970 from William Woods,” said Jackson.
Her most distinct memory is of an 8 a.m. physical science class five days a week with “Mrs. (Alice) Morrison.” Despite the early hour, she loved the class.
“Mrs. Morrison was a wonderful teacher who continuously gave us challenges. She was always available to help us,” Jackson said.
Since she was married and didn’t live on campus, she said she missed out on a lot of traditional college life. She remembers visiting with other women from town in the basement of the Academic Building in what was called the “Willies Out Room.”
She also remembers other women students talking excitedly about the KAs from Westminster College, who rode over on horseback in Confederate uniforms to serenade the William Woods students.
“Of course, I never saw that; I only heard about it,” she said.
In the fall of 1994, while working at Fulton Middle School as an aide in the department of special services, Jackson began taking night classes at WWU from 5 to 9 p.m. Two years later, she received her master of education (M.Ed.).
“The teaching quality was absolutely first-rate, therefore the course of study was very challenging,” said Jackson. She particularly remembers Betsy Tutt, now associate provost, as being “an exceptionally dedicated teacher.”
A lot changed between when Jackson first started at William Woods in 1959 and when she got her master’s degree almost four decades later.
“For example,” she says, “No one wore blue jeans or slacks on campus in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We all wore skirts and sweaters, with either saddle shoes or loafers.”
The buildings and the campus have changed, too, and she misses the old wooden bridge across Senior Lake that was replaced with a concrete one when the wooden one was burned down by pranksters one too many times.
A firm believer in continual learning, Jackson would eventually love to go back to school to get her Ph.D. in some field of education. In the meantime, the South Callaway substitute teacher focuses on helping others learn and spending time with her growing family.