William Caldwell is no spring chicken, so it may have surprised some folks back in his hometown of Ravenswood when the 80-something told his friends he was going to college. While his buddies were fishing, he was taking classes in environmental science and marketing and learning how to use the Internet.

This December, Caldwell, now 85 years young, joined 77 fellow graduates in receiving a diploma from West Virginia University at Parkersburg. It was a proud moment for Caldwell, who remembered the exact moment he decided to pursue a college education.

“After my wife died, I was home by myself, pretty alone. I knew I had to do something, and I saw an ad in the local paper from WVU ’s Parkersburg branch in Jackson County and it said,’Available: Regent Bachelor of Arts.’I knew I had a lifetime of experiences so I went over to see an adviser and signed up,”he said.

WVU’s RBA program, now in its 28th year, provides a general education without the requirement of a major. Students submit a written portfolio documenting knowledge of specific disciplines through work or life experiences and receive credit hours based on this information. Often, additional course work is necessary to obtain the credit hours needed to earn the degree.

“It took me one year to write the portfolio,”Caldwell said.”It’s my life story, everything from high school onall of my Navy experience, my 35 years as a hardware merchantin seven notebooks.”

Born on April 24, 1918, he grew up along the Virginia-West Virginia border and graduated in 1935 from Graham High School in Bluefield.

“That was right in the middle of the Depression and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a four-year college. I went to the business college in Bluefield for two years,”he said.”After that, of course, we had Pearl Harbor. I volunteered and went into the Navy.”

Four years and two trips across the Atlantic later, Caldwell gave up his seafaring days and took a job as a district manager for Southern States Cooperative.

“I supervised 14 stores, but all the time, I had a dream of getting into business for myself. In 1961, I resigned my district managership and went into the hardware business,”he said.”I operated two hardware stores and retired in 1986.”

Despite his business success, Caldwell still dreamed of getting a college degree. His children and grandchildren all went to college, so he felt he needed to catch up with his family, which includes three doctors and two Ph.Ds.

“It took me four years to complete a degree, but I was in no hurry and I just took my time,”he said.

As for his future plans, he added,”I’ve gotten pretty good on the computer and now I’m thinking about going for my master’s degree.”

For now, Caldwell said he is on”sabatical,”taking a break from classes and enjoying two of his favorite hobbies, fishing and flower arranging.