When she first started college at age 18, Denise MacFarland says she had the desire to be a good high school teacher. Now, she feels she has the life experience to finally achieve her dream.
“I can’t believe the opportunities that are right in front of me,” she says. “I know I’m luckier than most people, and now that I’ve had this opportunity, I really need to get out there and make a difference.”
She was still making a difference at work and at home, just around a different career path. Back to her freshman year in college in 1972, MacFarland noticed the college sweetheart she met and married after her freshman year was in denial about his diabetes, and that denial had landed him in the hospital several times over their freshman year. “The plan was for him to finish his degree and then for me to finish my degree, but a few months into the marriage, I saw that plan wasn’t going to work.”
Launching her own research on diabetes and prompting her husband to be more proactive on his health seemed to fall on deaf ears, she says, often with the comeback, “What do you know?” As a result, she pursued her RN degree, became well-versed on diabetes, and the couple had two children, Ian and Abby. In between, the couple had moved to Minneapolis and back to Cincinnati. Christopher graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
After a 17-year marriage, the couple divorced and Denise continued working as a nurse to raise her children. She says Christopher eventually passed away from diabetes complications.
Denise was working at Hospice of Cincinnati when she came across an old friend, a chaplain she had met 25 years ago while working at Bethesda Hospital. Her re-acquaintance with Tom MacFarland led to second marriages for both and three stepchildren for Denise. The couple will mark their seventh wedding anniversary in August. They live in Colerain Township and share three grandchildren.
But before they headed down the wedding aisle, Tom was already envisioning Denise marching down the aisle at UC’s Commencement ceremony. “His philosophy was that this was a gift that I never had the opportunity to pursue and I should enjoy it to the max. But at first, I got angry and told him I thought it was cruel to even bring up – I was too old to go back to college.
“Eventually, I realized I didn’t want to work at the hospital anymore,” Denise says, “so I kept my nursing license but stopped practicing and entered UC’s teacher education program. I wish I had done it a couple of years earlier. I’ve never been happier,” she says.
Regarding the age factor, her life experience in a profession of caring won Denise praise from her professors for her compassion in working with high school students, as well as serving as a mentor for UC’s traditional-aged teacher candidates. “I think she was a stabilizing and positive influence on them,” says Chet Laine, a UC associate professor of education.
Denise adds that at first, she was a bit apprehensive about fitting in with the traditional-aged students, but realized her concerns were completely unfounded. “I was a little nervous that they might not welcome me in class, but that’s not what I found at all. Anytime I had to miss a session, someone would get in touch and offer me their notes. When we had to do group projects, people would volunteer to allow me into their groups.”
She is also continuing the family tradition of UC alums. Her daughter, Abby, and Abby’s husband, Greg McElfresh, graduated from the Carl H. Lindner Honors PLUS Program in 2001.
Denise will return to UC this fall to complete her student teaching experience and achieve her Ohio teaching license.
“I’ve always wanted to teach high school,” she says. “I think those years are the most dynamic years for a young person and it’s an opportunity for teachers to have the most impact on students as they’re making decisions about going out on their own.”
When asked to compare when she first started pursuing becoming a teacher at age 18 to her graduation at age 56, Denise says there’s no comparison about how much more she can bring to the table now. “After 32 years of nursing and raising children, my perspective is so much broader than what I had when I was 18 years old. Then, I had the desire. Now, I have the life experience to be a teacher who can inspire students.”