NEWS

More than 70 years after starting, 90-year-old DeFauw earns degree

Claudia Loucks
For the Republic
Joyce DeFauw shows the 1955 yearbook from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, which was the last year she was at the college (then known as Northern Illinois State Teachers College). She recently returned to college to earn her diploma, which she will receive in December.

There’s a saying that goes, “If there’s a will, there’s a way,” and Joyce DeFauw most definitely had the will to return to college to earn the degree she started working on 50 years earlier.

She finally found a way, too, and in addition to celebrating her 90th birthday on Nov. 7, DeFauw will receive a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, on Dec. 11.

The graduate plans to take part in the graduation ceremony and walk across the stage to receive her diploma.

Her family recently combined a birthday party with a graduation party for her at Liberty Village in Geneseo, where she has made her home since having hip replacement surgery in 2016.

The former Joyce Kane was born and raised on a farm on RR 3, Geneseo. Her dad was a farmer and her mother was a housewife and rug weaver.

She gradated from Geneseo Township High School in 1950 and was awarded a full scholarship to NIU, which then was known as Northern Illinois State Teachers College. Six previous students had turned down the scholarship and DeFauw was the first to accept it.

Her original plan was to become an elementary school teacher, but she switched her major to home economics. After attending college for three and one-half years, she met her first husband, Donald Freeman, and the couple married in June of 1955 before she graduated. The couple had three children in quick succession – Theresa Hock; Geneseo; Donald Freeman Jr., Geneseo; and Sarah, who passed away at age 10 after drowning in the family pond.

Within three years of their marriage, in August of 1958, Donald Freeman Sr. died of complications from diabetes. His widow then moved from Earlville, where her husband had been a herdsman, back to Geneseo to be closer to her parents, Raymond and Amelia Kane, who lived in Edford Township in rural Geneseo.

She married Roy DeFauw in February of 1963 and they had six children in four years – two sets of twins, Joanne Wright, Orion; and Jeanne Mirocha, Davenport; second set of twins, James DeFauw, Osco; and Janette Dwyer, Atkinson; and two sons, Jeral DeFauw, Geneseo; and Joseph DeFauw, who lives in Georgia. In addition to her children, DeFauw also has 17 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.

Dwyer said her mother would often tell her and her siblings how much she wished she had finished college.

"She always felt she had disappointed her parents by not finishing college,” Dwyer said. "Finally, my oldest brother, Don, said, ‘Why don’t you finish?’”

When searching for Joyce DeFauw’s original transcripts at Northern, they were not on computer records, nor microfiche, but on paper.

Three years ago, she was given a computer from her family and they proceeded to enroll her for online college classes at Northern Illinois University.

“No stopping her once the ball was in motion,” Dwyer said. “She is taking a class a semester and there is quite a bit of homework involved.”

Her advisor at NIU is Judy Santacaterina, and Dwyer said, “She has been absolutely wonderful with mom, and is postponing her retirement until mom graduates in December.”

DeFauw was asked how difficult college studies are for her, and she replied, “I had a lot of help from the Lord, from my family and instructors at NIU.”

Dwyer said, “Our family was very happy she had her online schooling to occupy her time during Covid. For great lengths of time, the residents were entirely confined to their rooms with vey little contact with anyone.”

When asked if she plans to become employed after she graduates, DeFauw thought for a moment and then answered, “No, but I am thankful and blessed that I have been able to finish college.”

In addition to her college studies, DeFauw finds time to read, play bingo and complete puzzles, and continues to be involved with her church, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Edford Township.