92-year-old goes from dropout to graduate

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Greene County native Ruth Brown Ross will be flying in for Beth-Center High School's graduation ceremony Friday, but she won't be in the audience.

Instead, the 92-year-old will be onstage receiving her diploma.

After completing a senior project documenting the hardships of growing up during the Great Depression, Mrs. Ross will fulfill her lifelong goal of finishing high school.

Mrs. Ross, of Tarpon Springs, Fla., was born in Fayette City and moved to Clarksville in Greene County when she was 8. She dropped out of East Bethlehem High School, now Beth-Center, in Washington County when she was 16 -- a junior -- to marry Vance Ross of Clarksville in 1937. Ross was working in a coal mine when Mrs. Ross dropped out. Though she had a happy 66-year marriage -- her husband has since died -- she said she always regretted not earning her diploma.

"All my life, I've had it in the back of my mind that I didn't graduate, and that bothered me," she said.

After the passing of her husband, Mrs. Ross moved to Maryland with her daughter, Janet Ross Braun, and eventually to Florida, where she has been living under Janet's care for the past three years.

When Mrs. Ross entered the hospital earlier this year following a fall, she was upset when the nurses asked about her education history and referred to her as a "dropout."

"It set a spark in me," Mrs. Ross said. "It was then that I decided that I wanted to get my high school diploma."

Mrs. Ross' granddaughter, Randi Ross Marodi of Bentleyville, contacted Beth-Center to see how her grandmother could earn her diploma.

Deb Sabol, a guidance counselor at the school, looked through the school's student records and discovered that Mrs. Ross had been a strong student on track to graduate in time. Mrs. Ross was told that if she completed a senior project, she would be eligible for graduation. So, she decided to write her essay about growing up during the Great Depression.

Mrs. Ross said she worked through four or five drafts before the essay was ready to be reviewed by her daughter, who is a retired teacher. Then they made a video recording of Mrs. Ross reading her essay.

"It was very taxing," Mrs. Ross said, "but I had a lot of time to get ready for it and I spent hours doing it."

In her video project, she describes life during the Depression. Her father was a nonunion worker in a Fayetteville coal mine who lost his job when Mrs. Ross was 8. The family moved to Clarksville when her father found work in another mine.

"Some men who lived in coal company houses were having all of their belongings thrown out on the lawn," Mrs. Ross said in the video. "That was a scene I would like to erase out of my mind."

She recalls other memories in the video from that time in her life: having only the last peach from the family tree to eat for dinner, square dancing in the neighbors' living room and singing lessons she had to quit once her father became unemployed.

Mrs. Ross expects several members of her family to be in attendance at her graduation, including her granddaughter, who will be coming in from New York City.

"I am very excited about it," she said. "And I just think it's a dream come true."

Maxwell Radwin: mradwin@post-gazette.com.

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