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The graduate:Velda Metelmann at 91 earns a master's degree

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - BLAZING A NEW TRAIL - Velda Metelmann tries on her cap and gown for the first time in anticipation of her graduation ceremony at Marylhurst University. Velda Metelmann just earned her master's degree at age 91 in only three years, which was a speed record considering she took 67 years to finish her sophomore year in college: Velda entered Oregon State College just after World War II broke out and finished her sophomore year more than half a century later at Marylhurst University.

And during those years in between, Velda, who lives in King City, lived a lot of life.

Born in Umatilla County in Eastern Oregon where her family had a fruit farm, the family moved to Milton "before it was Milton-Freewater."

"One of my brothers had a learning problem that the Oregon schools couldn't cope with, so my family moved to Los Angeles for the schools, and I graduated from Manual Arts High School in LA," said Velda, who had three brothers and a sister.

After high school she returned to Oregon to attend Oregon State College for "one year and two quarters."

She added, "I got restless. I felt I had learned everything they could teach me. World War II was on, and I wanted travel and romance."

Velda soon got both: She went to Alaska with her best friend from first grade, where they both met their future husbands. Velda met Gustav Piff, "and we were married for 34 years, 10 months and 22 days."

Gustav was a pharmacist, and Velda worked as a medical transcriptionist for seven years; the couple moved around over the years, living in Milton-Freewater, Walla Walla, Spokane, Tacoma, Pendleton and Puyallup.

In 1951, they became Bahá'ís, which is a faith founded in 19th century Persia. It is a monotheistic religion that believes in a spiritual unity of all humans and that there is one God who is the source of all creation, that all the major religions come from the same God and spiritual source, and that humans are all created equal.

"One reason we moved around a lot was to assist Bahá'í communities," said Velda, who was devastated after Gustav died when she was 57. It took her three years to recover enough to make plans to go on with her life, explaining, “I followed the example of Abdu'l-Baha, who gathered the Bahá'í prisoners together to recount the ridiculous things that had happened so they could laugh even in the dreadful conditions in which they were living in Akka - and I adopted that pattern to assist me in recovering from grief."

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - FURRY FRIENDS - When not hitting the books while earning her degrees, Velda Metelmann enjoys the company of her dog Suzie and cat Whisper in her King City home.Velda's first big independent step was to move to Denmark to a Bahá'í community, which proved to be prophetic because on her third day there, in the same rooming house where she lived, she met her second husband, Christoph Metelmann.

"He was born in Germany but was a naturalized U.S. citizen and came from Pennsylvania," Velda said. "We got married after knowing each other for six months. At age 60, you're a pretty good judge of character. We lived in Denmark for 23 years. I volunteered and was an international secretary, and we entertained a lot."

In 1997, Velda published a book, "Lua Getsinger: Herald of the Covenant," about a renowned believer and teacher of the Bahá'í faith.

Velda's sister was living in the King City home where Velda now lives and became ill; conveniently, their cousin lived right across the street, and when the cousin moved out, Velda and Christoph moved into her house in July 2006 to take care of the sister.

After Velda's sister died, the Metelmanns moved into her house.

"I kept thinking about college and always wished I had a degree," Velda said. "I wondered, did I have the power to get one or would I just fold up? All my grandchildren and grandchildren-in-laws were going to college. A blind friend was going to Marylhurst (University), and Christoph wanted me to go.

"I called and learned you can get college credit for life experiences. You have to write papers explaining how your various experiences equal the content of the different classes, which I did. Marylhurst transferred my credits from Oregon State, and I earned 24 credits from Marylhurst for prior learning. When I originally quit college, one of my professors said, 'You'll be back.'

"Marylhurst has small classes, and they treat you kindly. I was older than my professors, but I liked meeting the young students. When all your friends are your age when you're older, they tend to die."

Velda got both her bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in interdisciplinary studies; she spent two years finishing her undergraduate degree in 2011, "and I immediately started that fall on my master's," she said.

"Modern problems are too complex to be solved by one discipline," Velda added.

Christoph's dream was to see Velda walk in her graduation ceremony for her master's degree, but he died 10 months before she graduated June 14. "We were married for 30 years and 18 days," said Velda, who on June 7 along with other newly minted master's degree candidates gave short presentations of their thesis subjects.

Velda's topic was, "Turning Gold to Platinum: Having a Great Old Age," although the new graduate hit a few roadblocks along the way, breaking a hip in one fall and breaking one arm and both wrists in another fall.

Velda is planning on spending the summer turning "Gold" into a book; having already written "Lua Getsinger" and several children's books for her great-grandchildren, she knows what she's doing.

"I'm hoping it will sell," Velda said. "That is the only way I can pay off my student loans. But I did check before I got into this, and student loans aren't inheritable.

"I'll be 92 in the fall, and I don't know what the job market is for a 92-year-old, but I know employers can't discriminate because of age."

Velda and Gustav had three sons, "and they are all married to daughters-in-law who are the answer to a prayer," said Velda, adding that she also has six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, "and they're not through."

Tigard resident Marci Thornton-Smith is one of Velda's biggest fans and added this about her friend: "While reading, writing papers, struggling over math problems and dealing with health issues, she still found time to entertain friends and family with homemade meals, to knit hats and baby clothes for great-grandchildren as they arrived, to care for an ailing husband...

"She also cared for a very sick friend at least one night a week to give the friend's husband a night off… She is such an inspiration and a fascinating person.”