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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Diploma at 99

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SL woman realizes a dream 82 years after leaving school

Storm Lake's Agnes Beckfield celebrated her 99th birthday with many family members Saturday - and the high school graduation that she missed out on 82 years ago.

A few members of her close-knit family made the surprise event possible - complete with a cap and gown and a signed diploma from the Sac City High School - while many others, as well as Agnes, enjoyed the surprise.

Joy Webster, Early, Agnes' niece, shared that her aunt has had a fulfilling 99 years but always seemed to regret that she never had the opportunity to graduate from the high school in Sac City where she grew up.

In her teenage years, her mother had fallen sick, and with a family of seven, Agnes had little choice but to leave her studies behind to care for her mother and her two younger siblings, who were both present at the celebration over the weekend (Lester Carnine, now 91, resides in Storm Lake, and Bertha Dees, 93, lives in California.)

"I went until the 10th grade," Agnes said. "I felt bad I didn't get to finish but it was for a good reason. It was customary back then that with any tragedy, the oldest girl, or boy, stayed to take care of things."

Joy and her siblings went to work to help make their special aunt's dream come true.

The superintendent of schools though the idea was tremendous, but special permission was needed from the Iowa Department of Education, and locally, from the Sac City School Board. A diploma was ordered and imprinted with the same wording that would appear on a 2006 diploma for any graduate - except in the corner the words "honorary" are stamped and the date reveals the completion of studies was in 1924.

Agnes, who worked for many years in the Buena Vista County sheriff's office and clerk of court's office, said she had an inkling her family was up to something over the past few weeks.

Relatives would pop up with unexpected questions about her schooling. But the family, which loves to have fun, carefully kept the secret from her.

Surrounded by family members from California, Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, eastern Iowa and the surrounding area this weekend, she was dressed in a high schooler commencement gown, had a mortarboard plopped on her head and walked to the tune of Pomp and Circumstances.

"I didn't know what to expect," she said.

She wasn't kidding. For the past several birthdays parties for her, family members have had a theme and dressed Agnes accordingly. One year, she was a race car driver, another she was Cleopatra and still another, she was a queen for the day.

"They always come up with something," she laughed.

After she was presented the diploma, mouths dropped open, cheering and whistling filled the room, and the words, "You're now old enough to vote" were shouted!

Agnes hasn't decided what she will do with her diploma now that she has it, but laughing, she says she doesn't dare put in a drawer somewhere or she may forget where she put it.

In doing some checking in the Guinness Book of World Records, relatives discovered that she just may be the oldest person in the world to get her high school diploma; the next closest was a woman who was 97. They said they may alert the record keepers of Agnes' achievement, but even if she doesn't make in the record book, this new graduate is in a class unto herself to a lot of people who care a lot about her.

"It was wonderful," she said. "It was kinda like a dream come true."

Her next birthday will make her a centenarian, and no doubt, the scheming in family circles may already be underway to celebrate.

"I tell you," Agnes said, "I don't really know what to expect next from them."

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