May 2012 was a big month for Donna Anderson. For starters, she turned 81. And to top that, she walked in Front Range Community College’s Larimer Campus commencement ceremony, receiving her Nurse Aide Certificate (and earning a 4.0 GPA).

“I always wanted to be a nurse from the time I was a little girl,” says Donna, who grew up in Dix, Nebraska. She spent one year at the University of Northern Colorado (1955-1956), but after marrying in 1957 and having three sons thereafter, she put her education dreams on hold.

A Bucket List

Nearly 55 years later, Donna decided the time was right to pick those pursuits back up again. In 2010, she saw an FRCC ad in a magazine and decided to explore the possibilities. She heard good things about the Nurse Aide classes and enrolled that fall. “I thought, why not? Why not school now?” says Donna, who lost her husband to lung cancer in 2004. “I figured it might be my last chance. It was on my bucket list!”

Making a Difference

Months before she began classes at Front Range, Donna had started a part-time job working for Home Instead Senior Care, a home health organization. (She had shown up at the company’s offices in person to apply, and was hired right away.) “I have a heart for senior citizens,” says Donna, who works 20 hours a week. “A lot of my patients have dementia or other serious illnesses. I consider it a gift from God that I am able to help them.”

Her education, Donna says, has given her the training she needs to best serve her patients. “I feel much more medically aware now,” she says. “My Front Range classes helped me tremendously.”

A Lifelong Mantra: Caring for Others

Throughout her life, Donna has always taken care of those around her.

She cared for her husband for a number of years when he became ill and is now a grandmother and great-grandmother to 16 children. “I like taking care of others,” she says. “There are many people my age who have lost all freedom, who can’t care for themselves. I feel good about helping them.” A self-described people person, Donna has grown close with several patients, including one who passed away earlier this year at the age of 98.

A Five-Year Plan

Now that Donna has discovered the career of her dreams, she says she’d like to work until age 85. If ever there was a woman to do it, she’s the one. She credits a healthy diet, good genes, and a daily workout at the YMCA for her own good health and fortune.

Donna is aware that there aren’t too many octogenarians who take on college, but her advice to anyone interested in getting an education is to go for it. “Sometimes we surprise ourselves,” she says. “I was surprised and happy that I could do this.” The Front Range community, she says, makes it easy to fit in. “It didn’t matter how old I was. I made a lot of friends, and I had a great experience. I loved every minute of my time in the classroom.”


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