Defying ageism: Welding student graduating after retirement

“I thought I was retired.”
–Ron Stribling, UCC graduate

Ron Stribling is not your average UCC student; he’s been married 60 years, has five sons, lived during WWII and at 81 years of age, he is graduating from the welding program with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree.

Most would deem it unusual for Stribling to return to school after all this time, but after being laid off from his job in 2016, it was his only way forward.

Welding has always come natural to him. As a child, he’d watch his father weld. He had “always been around welding,” so it was a logical career path.

Born in Santa Barbara, California, Ron and his family would later find themselves living in Sutherlin, Oregon, where he spent the majority of his elementary through high school years. It was there that he met his wife Ardena.

After graduating high school, he tried his hand at the university game. But, after only a year and a half at University of Oregon, he knew the university scene was not for him.

Following his brief, first stint of college, Stribling moved from Eugene to Seattle to take a job at the Boeing airplane assembly plant in Everett, Washington, where he spent his time building the bodies of commercial jetliners like the 747 and 767.

Ultimately, that job didn’t pan out and he soon found himself back home in Sutherlin where he’d start his first of many mill jobs.

Stribling had worked in various mills practically non-stop for the last 50 to 60 years from ones in Montana and Texas to a multitude in Oregon.

He never stopped working to provide for himself and his family, no matter the trouble or the distance. When he found that he needed to change employment from one mill in Montana to another in Oregon, Stribling was ready for the challenge. “I packed up everything in a night and drove the whole thousand miles just so I didn’t miss a day of work,” Stribling said.

After high school and a couple years of college, Stribling worked straight through. He hadn’t known life without a job until he was laid off from his last employer in 2016. He blames “market conditions, foreign trade and the decline of plywood sales” as the reasons for the mill’s closure.

It took time for Stribling to get used to his new life without employment, but he eventually found normality again believing he would live the remainder of his life as a retiree, working on landscape and maintenance of his 13 acre property.

In a sheer twist of fate, after only just a short time in his new phase of life, Stribling received a letter from the state offering to pay for new, updated training. “It was a surprise,” he said. “ I thought I was retired.”

With support from his family, he accepted the training offer which brought him to UCC.

When reflecting on his time here at the college, he says he has truly enjoyed the memories and experiences he’s made. Despite the age difference, he’s found it easy to relate to other students and has made friendships that will stick with him.

While here, he surprised himself by making it on the dean’s list. As a self described “C student,” he never expected to have the good grades that he does. However, he insists that’s because he thinks “the classes are easier.”

Stribling says he owes thanks to the “absolutely fantastic instructors here.” He said, “I can’t thank them enough for their help and insight.” He found the hands on, smaller classroom setting to be more enjoyable than his UO experience.
With graduation in just a few weeks, Stribling is already looking ahead to the future.

“It sounds silly, but I’m gonna start looking for work,” he laughed. While Stribling is not letting his age get the best of him, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that his motor skills aren’t all that they used to be. With his memory failing, he sees himself landing in a supervisory or managerial position. “My memory isn’t as great as it used to be,” Stribling said. However, he is on the dean’s list, so there is that to consider.

As his college career comes to an end, Ron Stribling leaves UCC with some words of advice. He stresses the importance of both being in class on time and “turning homework in on time and in a proper fashion.”

Ron’s time spent at UCC may prove the old saying false: although you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, apparently this does not apply to humans.

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