When Gladys Janzen, 98, dropped out of high school after her junior year to care for her mother and two younger siblings, she thought the opportunity to receive a high school diploma was gone forever.
But now, almost 80 years later, she received her Marion High School diploma during a surprise ceremony in her honor Saturday at Salem Home in Hills?boro.
?I graduated,? a tearful Janzen said as she hugged Chris Sprowls, board president of the Marion school district, who presented her with the honorary diploma.
?It is my honor and pleasure to present this (diploma) to you,? Sprowls said.
?Oh, I want to show everybody this (diploma),? she said. ?I would have gone back, but at 19 I was too old already and I had to take care of my family.?
Janzen didn?t even begin attending school until she was 9 years old because she was caring for her brother, Elmer, 2, and a newborn sister, Annie.
Janzen was born Gladys Esther Leppke on Aug. 17, 1915, to Henry and Anna Leppke on the family farm five miles south of Marion and one-quarter mile west.
The first school she attended was Dickinson No. 16 country school, which was about 11?4 miles from her home.
Janzen said her family often conversed in Low German, which gave her problems with her English classes in school.
During Janzen?s later years of elementary school and early years of high school, her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Janzen missed her last year of grade school, but was able to start back to high school.
She remembered how she and her brother, Elmer, met with neighbor boys and they would all travel to Marion to attend high school.
?I would drive with the Hett boys?Russell and Ron, and Earl McGinness,? she said. ?We all sat in the back seat.?
With one year left before graduation, Janzen left school to help her mother. Even though Janzen wanted her diploma, life kept getting in the way.
Work, marriage and a variety of other circumstances kept her from completing that goal in the ensuing years,
Dream come true
Janzen?s grandson, Ray, and his wife, Ann, were among the family members hosting the birthday party and surprise presentation.
Ann said making the diploma a reality for their grandmother she and others were ?going to make happen.?
Family members realized the desire to have a diploma was still alive for Gladys. One of the first steps to make it happen occurred at an in-service with Lee Leiker, USD 408 superintendent.
?We started talking about it and got the ball rolling.?
Not long after, plans were in place for the surprise.
With more than 40 people attending her party, Janzen couldn?t stop reminiscing.
?I love Marion High School,? she said. ?They have good teachers and I love everyone one of them?they were all good to me.?
As Sprowls handed her the diploma, Janzen asked him if he remembered Dale Miller, a coach at that time.
?(The teachers) knew I was trying (to make honor roll) and I would look on the board and I would see 98,? she said.
With diploma in hand, Janzen was flooded with memories of her high school classmates and experiences.
?I could name them all, but right now I am blank,? she said. ?But I am now a Marion High School graduate.?
Looking at Sprowls, she said: ?Oh, thank you, thank you.?
Smiling, Sprowls said: ?You are so welcome. Happy birthday.?
To honor her special day, family members served graduation cake, along with cherry pie and ice cream, which were requested by Janzen for her birthday.