AUGUSTA ā€” George Van Deventer has done a lot in the last 80 years, but one of the things he hasn’t done is graduate from college.

Van Deventer took the first step toward completing that goal last week as a student in Seth Wigderson’s U.S. History II class at the University of Maine at Augusta. Wigderson is the same professor who taught Van Deventer two previous classes more than three decades ago.

Van Deventer, of Bristol, said his daughter Susan Iverson, an associate professor at Kent State University in Ohio, had been bugging him about continuing his education.

“He had been talking about it a lot, and I think having an intellectual outlet and community is important,” Iverson said from her home in Ohio. “The concern was that because he had been out so long, could he start up again?”

Iverson has an associate professor friend at UMA, Tamara Hunt, who was instrumental in helping Van Deventer return to school.

“She helped so much because of the uncertainty with his credits,” Iverson said. “It was really shocking that they were able locate his student record from 30 years ago.”

After raising a family while owning and operating a dairy farm, working as a truck driver, driving a school bus, editing and publishing a magazine and writing poetry, among other things, Van Deventer made the decision to go back to school.

“I didn’t even know I was that close to a degree,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy of higher energy, so we’ll see how I do.”

New UMA president James Conneely, who began work at the school Jan. 19, has yet to meet Van Deventer, but he is impressed by the student’s commitment and said it’s a testament to the university.

“The opportunity that Mr. Van Deventer has to pursue his education is the mainstay of the mission of UMA, one that provides access to all Mainers who may otherwise not have been able to follow their passion for a college education,” Conneely said in an email. “UMA is a school that allows students to turn dreams into reality.”

Van Deventer arrived at his first class in Jewett Hall wearing green corduroy pants, a blue button-down shirt and a tan vest. He wore eyeglasses and had a second pair around his neck. Throughout the two-hour class, Van Deventer listened intently while Wigderson first went over the class and its requirements, then lectured on industrialization.

While other students took notes on iPads and MacBooks and spiral notebooks, Van Deventer occasionally wrote in the inside the course’s textbook, “Give Me Liberty,” while mostly just listening to Wigderson.

“I have a lot of challenges now,” Van Deventer said before his first college class in 30 years began. “I’ve taken some tests recently that show I might have short-term memory issues.”

Kim Carter, 21 and a senior at UMA, said technology and learning the nuances of the professor’s requirements will be tough.

“The obvious challenge will be with technology,” Carter said. “Even I sometimes have a hard time figuring out where to submit a paper and other things like that.”

Wigderson’s course will cover U.S. history from Reconstruction to the present day, and Van Deventer has an advantage because he lived through 80 of the years he will be learning about. Carter said having Van Deventer in class will be a help to the other students.

“His classmates may end up learning from him as much as they do from the professor,” Carter said. “That’s one of the things I’ve loved about UMA, because having the perspectives from people who are in different parts of their lives with different experiences together in a classroom really enrich the course material.”

UMA caters to more than just the traditional-age college student, and that was evident in Wigderson’s class. The institution has made an effort to reach out to veterans, and several were in the class, mixed with the 20-somethings. Wigderson said in an email that one of the joys of teaching at UMA is the “tremendous diversity of students and the different lifetimes they bring to class.” He said he would encourage Van Deventer to share his life experiences.

Van Deventer was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was drafted into the Army, where he served for several years. He spent time in Arizona and visited Auburn with a military friend and fell in love with Maine.

He bought a small cottage in Round Pond in 1969 for $9,000 and moved to the state for good four years later after buying 80 acres in Washington. Snow Drift Farm eventually grew to 120 acres. Van Deventer raised cattle there, including dozens of milkers, while his late wife, Arlene, taught elementary school.

Iverson said her mother, Arlene Van Deventer, who died in 2008, had a master’s degree and taught elementary school for 31 years.

“She would be proud and really glad that he was doing this,” she said. “She definitely would be very supportive.”

While working on the land, poetry remained his passion, and Van Deventer worked with elementary schools around the state teaching students how to write poetry. He was the executive director of the Rockland-based Live Poets Society and edited a poetry magazine for more than a decade.

Van Deventer has written more than 900 poems since his first one in 1963, the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which happens to be the theme of the final for Wigderson’s class. Students must interview someone at least 70 years old about their memories of that fateful November day, but Van Deventer cannot interview himself.

Perhaps he’ll write a poem instead.

Jason Pafundi ā€” 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Hereā€™s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.