Family focus

Clare Lowther

When many people think of college, they imagine it as a place of independence. They might even imagine it as a place to escape from their parents.

But for Danielle and Tonya Shur, college has been different. For them, college has been a chance to grow even closer to their parents.

Right around the time Danielle and Tonya were starting school, their parents, Mary and Rick Shur, decided to go back to college.

When Mary and Rick, who are both in their 50s, lost their jobs at the Potter Children’s Home in the summer of 2001, they knew they had to make some changes.

But rather than start looking for new jobs, they decided to do something a little different.

“We didn’t know exactly what the future held,” Rick said. “But we knew we needed an education.”

Rick signed up for classes first, and Mary signed up a few weeks later. Daughters Angela, who graduated from Western in 2002, and Tonya were already enrolled at Western.

Daughter Danielle, a second-year freshman, didn’t enroll until after her parents had.

“Before they went back, I wasn’t in school, and I wasn’t really that interested in it,” she said. “They inspired me to go to college.”

Mary admitted she did have some trepidations about going back to school after so many years.

“It was scary,” she said. “I thought, ‘I wonder how many cobwebs are in my mind?'”

Mary said the reactions of friends and family varied.

“So many were so positive, but some thought we were crazy,” she said.

Rick agreed. “Some people thought it was weird because we’re nearing retirement age, and yet we’re going back to school.”

However, both Rick and Mary said that their daughters were positive from the beginning.

“It was good for them because they didn’t have the opportunity to do anything like this earlier,” said Tonya, a junior.

Mary and Rick started classes at the community college before moving to the main campus. Mary said she thought they benefited from attending classes at the community college because the class sizes were small and many of her classmates were non-traditional students like her and her husband.

Rick said there have been numerous benefits to going back to school, many of which go beyond the educational.

He said being around his fellow students has helped make him feel young.

He also said he has noticed a change in his daughters since he and Mary returned to school.

“They’re more open now,” he said. “Our daughters tell us everything.”

Tonya said many of her friends get along well with her parents and now hang out at her family’s home near campus.

“(My parents) are not typical parents,” she said. “They relate to people my age.”

Danielle said that having her parents in school has helped her broaden her social horizon.

“I meet a lot of people who have had classes with my parents,” she said.

Having so many people in college in the same house has led to one problem, though. Danielle – who so far is the only daughter to have taken a class with her parents – said that there is a sort of silent competition to see who can make the best grades.

Right now it seems the parents are winning.

“Our GPAs are higher than our daughters’,” Rick said. “Our girls always say ‘Mom and Dad, you study too much!'”

Mary said she believes that because she and her husband were out of school for so many years, they may have some advantages over many traditional students.

“(My husband and I) aren’t worrying about things most college students have to worry about,” Mary said. “We aren’t looking for a spouse, we have our kids raised, and everything is settled. We can concentrate on school instead.”

The Shurs admit that college can be expensive for just one person, let alone four. They have been relying primarily on grants, loans and a scholarship given to them by Lowell Guthrie, the financier of the Guthrie Bell Tower. And Tonya is a member of the National Guard, which pays for her education.

The family has had to make some financial sacrifices, but Rick said they have not suffered because of it. The Shurs work out at the Preston Center, attend Western sporting events and go to other campus activities, most of which are free for students.

“The University offers so much for students to do. There’s always something going on,” he said.

Mary and Rick are both in their junior year of college. Mary is an advertising major and Rick is majoring in geosciences.

They both plan to complete their masters at Western. Rick hopes to get his Ph.D., but Western does not offer a doctoral program in geosciences. Once they have completed their degrees, Mary and Rick would like to teach at Western.

“I don’t want to retire,” Rick said. “I don’t see it in my future. I want to do as much as I can to help this place because it has helped our family so much.”

Rick and Mary both said they have no regrets about returning to school. Rick said it might actually be the best thing they’ve ever done.

“We’re having more fun than we’ve ever had in our life,” he said.

Reach Clare Lowther at [email protected]