- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Almost 50 years after he dropped out of high school, Manhattan resident Leon Havens finally received his diploma.

“It’s been a long road, but finally, after all this time, we finally got it done,” he said. “It’s one of the best things ever.”

Sixty-six-year-old Havens received his diploma this week through Manhattan-Ogden School District’s Open Door program, said Vickie Fix-Turkowski, director of USD 383’s Adult Learning Center. The program allows people to earn credits toward a high school diploma through computer-based classes that students can take at their own pace, she said.

Although Havens was scheduled to walk across the stage at Manhattan High School to receive his diploma with 20 other students, officials canceled the graduation ceremony because of the threat of severe weather.

“It sucks,” Havens said with a laugh, but he plans to walk during next year’s ceremony.

The Manhattan Mercury (http://bit.ly/1TW32RC ) reports that Havens was born in Rensselaer, Indiana, in 1950. At age 6 he was diagnosed with polio, he said. He fought with the disease until he was 14, when he was able to learn to walk again.

That struggle and learning to walk again could be part of the reason he dropped out, he said.

“I didn’t really get to go to school all that much, because I was in the hospital most of the time,” he said.

After dropping out of high school during his freshman year, Havens said he worked at a steel mill making railroad spikes. When he turned 18, he joined the Army during the Vietnam War. He served there for about a year until he was moved to Germany.

When he left the Army he married and had four children. Today he is divorced and the grandfather to 12 and great-grandfather to two, but he doesn’t see them much, he said.

He decided to move to the Manhattan area more than 30 years ago because he liked the area when he was stationed at Fort Riley during his nearly seven-year stint with the Army, he said. He worked as a custodian at Kansas State University for several years before retiring.

Although students can learn at their own pace, Havens spent as much time as he could working toward his diploma, Fix-Turkowski said.

“They don’t have to attend six hours a day,” she said. “But Leon came every day, seven hours a day, to work on his coursework.”

Havens had only two of the 48 required credits to his name when he entered the program, he said. He was able to finish his coursework in about three years.

“Their schedule, how they want to set that up, is completely up to them,” Fix-Turkowski said. “That’s why it’s called Open Door.”

Havens credits his close friend Sandra Hobbs as the reason he went back to school.

Hobbs said she encouraged him to go back to school because she’s been using the program in Manhattan since 2001.

“I said I will push you and you’ll push me,” she said about encouraging Havens. “We’ll push each other.”

Hobbs said she dropped out of school when she was young because her mom thought she was “stupid” and “wasn’t learning anything.” But she did try to go through beauty school and was on her way to graduation until she failed an exam because she couldn’t read the test, she said.

The instructor of the beauty school called her stupid, too, she said. Hobbs eventually moved to Manhattan to look after her brother, Jack, who asked her if she would be interested in going back to school.

“I told him I can’t be told I’m stupid again,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He said, You know they won’t say that in Manhattan,’ and they haven’t.”

Hobbs said she hopes to graduate next year, when she’ll be 70, and she is thankful for the education the Open Door program has been able to provide.

“I really love my teachers,” she said.

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Information from: The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, http://www.themercury.com

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