Octogenarian ­fulfills education dreams

About 70 years after Margaret Rodkey had to stop going to school to help her family, the 84-year-old Altoona woman has realized her dream of earning a high school diploma.

Through the loss of her first husband, having eight children, five of whom have died and suffering a mini-stroke that derailed her from getting her GED, Rodkey pushed toward her goal. After less than two years of taking courses such as geometry, history and English through the mail, Rodkey earned a high school diploma from the nonaccredited Stratford Career Institute in 2012.

“When I went the first year of high [school], I prayed to God that I got my high school diploma before I died, and I just turned 84,” she said from the kitchen of her Altoona home last week. “I told my dad, I said, ‘Before I die I will get my diploma.’ He said, ‘I know you will, Margaret.’ He said, ‘You keep it up,’ and that was my dad’s wish because I was the only one out of our family who graduated.”

Rodkey, a Flinton native who has lived in Altoona 28 years, was one of seven children of the late Ross and Adeline Hockenberry.

She passed into her second year of high school when she stopped attending and went to work after her father suffered an injury in a hit and run accident, she said.

“I worked for the families who had little ones. I worked for them for years,” she said. “And when I was 12 years old, I worked for a lady, and I was getting 50 cents a half a day back then. And then I stayed and worked with them … [a] long time. I worked from the time I was 12 until I was about 20-some. … I worked for a lady, I worked for house cleaning and everything so I worked for a lot of years.”

Her daughter, Jane Fisher of Lakemont, said her mom raised seven children between her working years. Rodkey had eight children, but one of them died as a newborn. Starting in her late 60s, she worked as a caregiver for 10 years.

“That was 70 years in between that she didn’t pick up a book, didn’t do anything as far as education other than raise a bunch of kids and you know then go to be a caregiver all those years,” Fisher said. “At her age to go start being a caregiver, that’s an accomplishment too, someone in their 70s taking care of somebody in their 70s.”

Rodkey, who loved to read, remembered sharing her love of poetry with a woman she cared for, who like the others, sat “around like they were lost,” she said. “So one day I said to this lady, ‘I know what I can do if you want to listen to me.”

Rodkey, who has written poetry and has plaques displayed in her living room for her poetry, then read poetry to the woman to help her fall asleep, she said.

Rodkey’s grandson, Jessy Cross of Lakemont, said “determination” was what made her want to go back to school.

“I mean after all these years I’m proud of her,” Fisher said. “We all are.”

In the late ’90s, Rodkey was trying to earn her General Education Diploma when she suffered a mini-stroke.

When she completed her mail correspondence courses, Rodkey was an “A” student, Fisher said. Rodkey finished her courses in less than two years.

“She keeps her mind very alert. She’s very tough. She still does her own laundry. She still does her own cleaning,” Fisher said. “She won’t let us do it. She did let me help yesterday a little bit. … It keeps her moving, keeps her young.”

Rodkey said she’s done those things all her life.

“I told my sister, Bell, ‘You sit around, you’re going down hill pretty fast,”’ she said. “Not me.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.