For Richard Murie, Age Doesn’t Matter When Pursuing a Degree


richard_murie_profileThe oldest graduate in the class of 2012, Richard Murie, 89, has many dreams and aspirations for ways to use the master’s degree in Spanish he earned at the University of Arkansas last May.

For Murie, continuing his education as a non-traditional student was not a difficult decision. Although he encountered problems along the way, from dysfunctional rotator cuffs (he can’t raise his arms higher than his chest) to trouble with hearing professors during lectures, those minor setbacks did not deter him from his goal to “enrich myself more in the world of Spanish,” he said.

After 56 years of marriage, his wife, Rosemarie Stanek, died in 2006 from complications of diabetes and a poorly functioning heart valve replacement, leaving Murie to decide what the rest of his life would look like. Living alone was a challenge for him so he decided to embark on a new adventure to fill his time.

“After 56 years of marriage, she died. And I thought, well I’ll just go back to school. So I did,” he said.

Murie holds a photo from the 1970's when he was a young professor (right) teaching Analytical Chemistry.

Murie holds a photo from the 1970s when he was a young professor (right) teaching Analytical Chemistry.

He was very familiar with the classroom. Spending time either as a student or a professor had always been part of his life. After earning his doctorate, Murie worked as a senior research scientist at the General Motors Research Center for 27 years in Warren, Mich. At night he taught analytical chemistry and instrumentation at Lawrence Technological University.

A professor for almost 40 years, Murie has taught at numerous universities around the country including West Virginia State College, Lake Erie College in Ohio, Lawrence Institute of Technology in Michigan and most recently, Northwest Arkansas Community College.

Teaching such a specialized subject had many challenges, but made the reward even greater when a student could finally comprehend the concept. Murie lived for that moment when a student’s eyes lit up with understanding.

“Many students don’t understand concepts,” he said. “The joy of teaching is making sure someone gets the information.”

“It’s easy to fail a student, but the secret is to make that student never want to miss your class,” Murie said. “You need to give them encouragement so they want to come back the next day.”

He often met with students outside of the classroom acting as a mentor for any challenges they might face at school or at home.

“I’ve had students over the years that have had home problems and just needed someone to listen to them and encourage them,” he said.

Many students returned to Murie after graduation and said, ‘if it hadn’t been for you I never would have finished.’ Those encounters were so rewarding for him as he always hoped to encourage students to continue their education, just as his parents had done for him as a young boy.

His parents were not college educated, but knew the value of education and encouraged their children to study relentlessly. Their strong opinions about the importance of education were very influential in his college career, he said.

While teaching in Mexico, he took award winning photos that helped develop his passion for photography.

While teaching in Mexico, he took award winning photos that helped develop his passion for photography.

As a child, he was interested in archeology; specifically the Aztec and Mayan archeological ruins in Mexico. That curiosity prompted him to study Spanish.

“I thought, if I want to go to Mexico, I need to learn Spanish,” he said. “So all these years it was in the back of my mind.”

In 1972, during his breaks from teaching, Murie volunteered to teach in Mexico. He taught at numerous universities including the University of Guadalajara, University of Americas, the Technological Institute of Monterrey and the University of Guanajuato.

He became entranced with the allure of the Spanish culture and continued to volunteer every December for many years.

Murie on campus in front of Kimpel Hall. He encourages senior citizens to take advantage of the free tuition the UA offers for citizens 65 and older, he said.

Murie on campus in front of Kimpel Hall. He encourages senior citizens to take advantage of the free tuition the UA offers for citizens 65 and older, he said.

When Murie decided to continue his education at the University of Arkansas in 2007, there was no question as to what he would study—Spanish. Taking two years of Spanish as an undergraduate at Ohio University, he was excited for the opportunity to study the language again at the University of Arkansas nearly 65 years later.

The University of Arkansas has a unique program that offers free tuition to residents 60 years and older. Murie benefited from this opportunity and thinks it’s a great way for senior citizens to enrich their lives, he said. “The fantastic Arkansas system to permit seniors to attend class is wonderful,” he said. “I would encourage senior citizens to choose a topic of interest and go for it.”

In October, Murie will be 90, but has no plans to quit pursuing his dreams. “You plan the little steps in life,” he said. “Always have a goal and take all the little steps that give you the capability to finally reach it.”

Murie hopes to return to Mexico and embark on another new adventure—creating a series of photo books featuring the beautiful cathedrals he fell in love with years ago.

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