76-year-old graduates from Loras College after 35 years of taking classes

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- Karen Leisen is a life-long learner. A topic will spark her interest and she'll dive in, reading books until she knows more.

Karen Leisen browses the bookshelves at the Loras College library on Thursday, May 16th. (Allison Wong, KCRG)

So it's fitting that she's spent nearly 35 years in college.

"I love learning and there are so many questions to be answered and so many I'll never get answered," she said.

At 76 years old, Karen is set to graduate from Loras College this weekend. Sure, her age makes her an unconventional student, but so does her journey.

Karen started her higher education at the University of Minnesota in 1960. After her first year, she got a summer job and quickly realized she couldn't afford to go back. She worked, eventually met her husband and moved to Dubuque in 1976. The next 13 years she had nine kids. But during that time, she never forgot about what she started.

"I always wanted to get back in school though," she said. "In fact, I said I used to feel jealous of my kids when I would go out and buy school supplies and they could go off to school and I couldn't."

Finally in 1984, when her youngest child was four years old, she began taking classes at Loras. Over the years, she took just one or two classes a semester. During those years, she ran an at-home daycare and also kept the books for her husbands business.

However, some time in she decided to take a break for her other passion: religion. She took a three-year course to became a pastoral associate.

"I visit the homebound, people in nursing homes, every day, and I keep them in contact with their home parish and bring them communion," Karen said.

Velma Hoppman receives communion from Karen each Thursday, and she's proud of her friend's accomplishment.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "I'm sure her children are all very proud of her. I'm proud of her and I'm happy to know her."

The Loras community is sad to see her go after so many years.

"There's a light that follows her, because she just loves learning and she loves relationship-building with people," academic internship coordinator Jennie Weber said.

She's a perfect example that it's never too late to continue a chapter in your life that was left behind.

"It's just that I made it through and I finished something I started," Karen said.