For most Americans, college stirs up images of post-pubescent high school graduates living in an overcrowded dorm room, munching cafeteria food and experiencing life free from mom and dad for the first time, all while whittling away at classes meant to earn the final trophy: A bachelor’s degree.
When Christa Voss Katz graduated from Mount Mary College in 1981, she prepared her own meals, and studied for exams alongside her six children, all of whom were in high school or college while she attended.
“I had learned about the Mount Mary Encore program for women with interrupted college education, such as those like me who postponed their education to raise a family,” she explained. “It was a 10-year program, but I went for nine years, taking one class at a time until I graduated.”
Katz earned her bachelor’s degree in English and library science when she was 56, and while it wasn’t easy accomplishing this feat after so many years away from academia, she felt compelled to set a good example for her children.
“My late husband, Lawrence, had a goal for each of our children to have a college education. It was what he lived for and he hung on until everyone had a degree,” said Katz. “He died of cancer in 1988 and felt that this was his purpose in life and an important legacy that he could leave. They are all doing very well, too. The oldest is 60 and the youngest is 40 and teaches special education in Massachusetts.”
After graduating, Katz worked at the Medical College of Wisconsin Library for 23 years in the acquisitions department.
“It was nice and close to home,” she said. “I did a lot of cataloguing and ordering.”
After children-raising and a long career, Katz, 86, is not staying home to rest and enjoy the solitude. Until it was closed this year, she regularly swam in the Mount Mary College pool, taking water aerobics classes to stay in shape. It was a great way for her to rebuild her muscles while recovering from a broken arm and hip surgery last year.
“I really miss this because I used to swim all the time and it made me feel great,” she said. “I would go back in a minute if the pool was open again. There aren’t a lot of places like that around that have individual changing rooms, because, face it – how many people my age feel comfortable changing in front of a bunch of young people? The locker room at Mount Mary just was perfect for me and for the other older people who wanted to get out and swim.”
According to Susan Nieberle, alumnae relations director, Katz is an avid supporter of Mount Mary College and a regular volunteer for fundraising efforts.
“Every year she volunteers at the Starving Artists Show that we host here on the Mount Mary campus,” said Nieberle. “She takes the same job every year selling drinks in the alumni refreshment booth. Everyone knows her and is always willing to help. She also helped each year with the fashion design department’s annual spring fashion show and is a very popular volunteer with her co-workers.”
As a member of Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa, Katz serves on the parish library committee, reading books and writing reviews for the bulletin.
“I don’t really do anything special, but I like reading books and writing up little blurbs about them,” she said. “I also belong to the Friends of Elm Grove Library and am a member of a couple of book groups there. I guess if you are an English major, you just like to read.”
It’s hard to imagine that Katz finds a second for herself as she also volunteers each year for Irish Fest, helping to rent out wheelchairs to benefit the Hibernian group and enjoys participating in several social groups in her neighborhood.
“I live in what they call the ‘friendliest neighborhood in Tosa,’” she said. “We have an endless number of groups here to join and keep adding more of them as people develop different interests. I think it all keeps me young.”