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PROFILE: Mother of Eight and Grandmother of Twenty Uproots Routine for Education

When her youngest daughter started at UC in 1997, Micki Bigner, 64, of White Oak, wasn’t exactly green with envy, but she still felt the twinge that she’d never completed college herself, having left school almost 40 years ago to get married and raise a family. Finally, Micki decided to stem her doubts and pluck up her courage. One day, she says, “I saw a ‘Help Wanted’ sign, and the car just turned itself into the White Oak Garden Center,” and Micki, then aged 57, found herself with her first paying job ever and on the road to a horticulture degree at UC.

Date: 6/14/2004 8:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot On that day in 1997 when then 57-year-old Micki Bigner’s car “just made the turn” into the White Oak Garden Center to pick up an employment application for the first time in her life, Micki had no idea she’d turned onto a new road in life.

“All I knew,” said Micki, “Is that I needed to do something.  I’d been wondering for six to eight months about what was next in my life.  My mother had passed away the year before.  My youngest was going to be starting college at UC.  All I’d ever done was child care, but I didn’t want to work in that field as much as I had loved raising my own children for so many years.”

“I was driving and saw a sign out that said ‘Greenhouse Help Wanted’…I filled out the application.  What did I put?  Experience: None.  Salary: No idea.  Previous Employment: None.”  She now laughs almost incredulously, “And they hired me right then and there.  I went home and some of my kids were there, and I announced, ‘I got a job.’”  Micki pauses and laughs again, “I don’t know if they were more thunderstruck that I’d taken a job or that someone would actually hire me.”

The garden center job planted the seed that led Micki back to the college classroom she’d left so long ago.  Even though she’d always been an avid gardener, Micki found she really needed more than just casually acquired knowledge to do her job.  “In something just as simple as ordering plants, you need to know the plants’ Latin, botanical names, not just their common names.”

So, Micki started back to UC part-time, generally taking three or four evening classes a quarter, to earn a horticulture degree, taking not only such classes as plant physiology and botany but other requirements like political science and history.  Suddenly, she was getting up at 5 a.m. every morning to study and complete assignments before heading off to work, sometimes working full-time, sometimes part-time, depending on the season.  Evenings were either spent on community or family activities.

Seven years after starting back to school, Micki is finally earning her baccalaureate in horticulture from UC's College of Applied Science, and her husband, seven of her eight children and any number of grandchildren will be on hand to celebrate with her at the College of Applied Science ceremonies set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 11, at Cincinnati’s convention center.  It’s only fitting that the whole bunch should be there, says Micki, because – in a way – the degree belongs to the whole family due to the support everyone has provided over the years. 

She adds, “And I also owe my mother, who passed away the year before I started back.  She provided me the example since she started back to school at age 56 and finished her college degree at age 60.  I’d hoped to beat her and make it by age 60 myself.  But that’s O.K.  I’ve felt her hands in the small of my back, pushing me on and saying, ‘Go, go, go.’”

And no wonder.  Says Micki, “Education is the fountain of youth.  I feel much younger now than when I hit that ‘speed limit’ of 55.  School has been fun and stimulating.  It’s opened up whole new worlds for me.  I’m more engaged in current events than I ever was.  Every course I took, I’d almost wish I’d found it first as a major, especially political science.  After class when I was taking political science, I’d go home to happily argue with my husband.” 

In fact, Micki has had so much fun that she’s thinking of going into another program.  She’s cultivating the thought of entering UC’s horticulture therapy certificate program, a set of classes that grafts human services’ needs – like occupational therapy, health-care, recreation and social work – with horticultural activities.

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