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Bonneau Beach native recounts post-retirement return to college

01) Delores Whack

Dolores Whack's dedication in hitting the schools in her sixties has earned her the admiration of several individuals who have recently learned of her unique feat. 

Fresh off her graduation from Macedonia High School in 1973, Delores Whack had clear visions of living out the college experience of sororities, campus life and football games, until that is her father, Daniel Thompson, told the 17-year-old that it was time to seek life's work.

Whack complied and dashed her plans of moving to Charleston by venturing all the way up north to Boston, Massachusetts to live with her Aunt Hazel and put her college dreams on hold for a period of nearly 50 years.

"I was sort of like amazed because I traveled there on a bus, a Greyhound Bus, and when I was saw all the buildings and stuff, I think I was expecting everything to be real tall," recalled the then impressionable teenager when first setting foot in Beantown and anticipating it to resemble New York City.

Propelled by her endearing enthusiasm, the eager newcomer to "The City on the Hill" was hired as a money-wiring specialist at the First National Bank of Boston and remained there for a period of three to four years.

From there, Whack relocated to Statesboro, Georgia to put in some additional work. But first and foremost, her main priority after marrying her first husband was to raise her first child. She would go on to eventually mother two boys.

The Bonneau Beach native's sojourn from being a steady workforce contributor renewed her long-term desire to someday earn acceptance in a university. Her newfound strategy in seeing her mission through at the time led her to move back to her home state by gaining employment as an issuer of "oversized" home loans for the Department of Transportation in Columbia.

Whack was not only a quick study in learning her craft, but she continued working for the state agency for 32 years. During that time, Whack took advantage of the opportunity of vying for a college degree at the University of South Carolina with the assured financial backing from the State.

"I went to class, I got enrolled at USC ... but it was kind of overwhelming and I stopped," added the resilient parent and working professional, who struggled in creating ample time to perform up to her expectations at an institution of higher learning.

But while Whack had resigned herself as being a lifelong high school graduate at this stage, little did she know that a shining and inspirational light would finally appear to her following retirement as a state employee. It was a revelation of sorts that prompted her to take care of business once and for all. 

"After I retired, I found out you could go to school free after 60. I always wanted to do that and said, 'You know what, I'm going to do it.' I didn't have anything to stop me, plus I was getting used to doing nothing being retired," she said about her epiphany moment that put her on the road back to USC. 

She opted to major in education given the potential teachers have in emerging as difference makers in students' lives. 

"Every night, I watched the news and I saw so many kids going astray. I said, 'Maybe if I can catch them while they're young and teach them while they're young, and teach them how to love each other and stop fighting so much," revealed the now 67-year-old grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of one. "I want to be around kids and just talk to them." 

Ironically, the elder statesperson who was fascinated by the thought of mentoring young individuals was herself motivated by a 28-year-old educator to get up and try again after initially failing to pass her PRAXIS test required of all prospective educators in South Carolina. 

The female professor, she noted, injected Whack with a much-needed dose of momentum to capture her second wind and see the job through.

Her young source of encouragement, in an odd twist of fate, hailed from Boston, Massachusetts. 

In reflecting on her trials and subsequent triumph, Whack advises fellow seniors in seek of a college degree to start slow by even registering for one class per semester until they acquire the confidence to assume a greater study load. 

"No matter what anyone says to you, or about you, don't take it to heart — just keep going, just keep pushing. As long as you know what you're about, it doesn't matter what someone else thinks of you." 

On Dec. 12, 2022, Whack donned the cap and gown to celebrate her graduation from USC, as she now prepares to seek out opportunities to apply her knowledge as a substitute teacher. 

As for her memories of Bonneau Beach, the Columbia resident still visits her old haunts to catch up with relatives and friends. Whack remembers nothing but fond memories of the tight-knit neighborhood she was born and raised in. 

"I think families were closer then, families there took care of each other, children looked out for each other."