My first day of school as a college student at Ohio Wesleyan University was a long time coming. I hadn’t been in a classroom since high school which was 23 years earlier.
I knew that if you are a full-time employee of the university, you can take one class each semester for free. So I applied and was hired to be the secretary in the education department, beginning in January 1977.
I signed up for my first day of class to be that fall semester. (Each semester is 15 weeks long with two semesters a year.) I filled out lots of forms, which even included my parents’ name and address. I was given a catalog of all the classes to choose from. It’s big stuff when you can open the catalog and choose a class that you will be giving your life over to for the next 15 weeks.
I chose to take speech. In this class, you spend your time writing speeches (on topics of your own choice), giving speeches and listening to the other students in the class giving their speeches. The professor was there to give his opinions and suggestions on how to do a better job.
Since it was fall semester and the Delaware County Fair was going on, I chose for my first speech to be about the Little Brown Jug race.
One of the rules is to relate your speech to your audience. (Give them a reason to want to listen to you.) I began my first speech with these words to the other students in the class: “After you graduate from OWU, for the rest of your life, people will ask you where you went to college. In your case, you will say ‘OWU in Delaware, Ohio.’ With that said, don’t be surprised if some people, over the years, say to you, ‘Delaware, Ohio, that’s where the Little Brown Jug is raced, isn’t it?’ After all, this particular race is well known in the world of racing harness horses. It brings in people, and race horses, from all over the United States and Canada. You don’t want to sound dumb, and say you don’t know anything about such a big race, so I am going to tell you all about it, so you can have an educated answer that may impress someone, like, maybe, a future boss.”
By the end of that sentence, the big football players in the back of the room sat up straighter and seemed to pay attention to the rest of my speech. I explained where the huge purse of winnings comes from for the winner of the Jug. I told them about payments that have to be made when the “Jug hopeful” is a yearling, and another when he is a 2-year-old and again as a 3-year-old, and finally, you pay a big starting fee the day of the race. (In 2015, the total purse was $677,000 and there were 46,000 people attending the race.)
I explained that only 3-year-old pacers can enter. (Not trotters, just pacers.) Then I explained the difference between trotters and pacers. It also helps to know why this big race is being held at a county fair, and not some big raceway. It’s because the Delaware County Fair racetrack is the fastest track around. It just so happens that when the track was built, the men who were in charge of the job knew what they were doing.
I added that it’s always the third Thursday afternoon in September, so go out the fairgrounds on Pennsylvania Avenue and you may see some records being broken.
I knew those football players in the back of the room liked my speech because, when I finished, they clapped.
When I had been taking one class every semester for about eight years, I was asked if I had a plan worked out so that, at some point, I could graduate. When I looked into the requirements for graduation, I found if I took a couple of science classes, a foreign language, and got a few more credits, I could graduate in the spring of 1988. Could I really sign up for science classes and survive? The worst would be taking a foreign language at my age. I had long ago passed my prime to be learning to speak another language.
But I did it. I graduated on Mother’s Day in May 1988. It took me a total of 11 years of taking one class a semester, as well as a few summer school classes, to meet all the requirements to walk across the stage and have the president of the university hand me my diploma.
And just a note to let you know what happened because I filled out the form when they asked for your parents’ name and address. When that first class ended, my mother asked me why she got a bill for $4 from OWU. When I looked, it was my grade for my speech class. I had made a 4.00. I was 41 years old and they sent my first OWU grade to my mom.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.