Deserving of a chance, no matter the obstacles

 In Donor Stories, News
A father’s push for education, generosity toward others illuminated daughter’s pathway to education

By Rowena Tchao

The temperature was hovering just above 70 degrees in Pyatt, Ark., as Ethel Reeves dusted herself off and wiped the beaded sweat from her forehead. As she packed up her tools, she smiled while looking out at the flourishing crops. Another day in paradise. As she began to walk back to the house for supper, her only concern was the many hours of homework she had to complete before Monday.

Reeves’s work ethic was shaped at an early age from laboring on a farm, and it was her father who encouraged her to study. Edgar Reeves only attended school through the third grade, as work duties on the farm demanded his full-time attention when he was a boy. When the elder Reeves turned 14, he ran away from home, fleeing his farm responsibilities, as well as his abusive and alcoholic parents. He traveled the country with a buddy looking for work until they both joined the Army during World War II. After the war, he married and started a family with his wife that eventually grew to 10 children. Given his lack of schooling, Reeves made a commitment to see his children graduate college. He valued education highly because he knew from experience that his children would have a more prosperous life than he did if they attended school.

Ethel Reeves '92 demonstrates her care technique. She is grateful she had the opportunity to get her Nursing degree despite financial challenges.

Ethel Reeves ’92 demonstrates her care technique. She is grateful she had the opportunity to get her Nursing degree despite financial challenges.

It was therefore a very proud day for the elder Reeves when he heard while he lay in his sick bed that his daughter Ethel received an associate degree in Nursing from Clark. Following his death, she went on to get a bachelor’s and master’s from Washington State University.

But the pathway to higher education was not without obstacles for Ethel Reeves.  Being a farmer’s daughter from Arkansas and later moving to Oregon with her new husband, Reeves had very little savings for a college education. It took scholarships and loans for her to complete her associate degree from Portland Community College.

Following graduation, Reeves found work at a bank. However, the position wasn’t fulfilling and nothing in the industry sparked her interest. She left banking and took a job at a local nursing home while studying to be a certified nurse’s aide. This job sparked her passion: she adored helping others, especially in their time of need.

Reeves decided to devote herself to the health care field. In 1989, she enrolled at Clark College despite the hour-long commute—each way—from her home in Hood River. When she stepped onto campus on her first day, she was very nervous and filled with anxiety since she wasn’t a traditional student. At this point, she was 30 years old and had a child. But her fears were quickly laid to rest.

“I love that Clark embraces the older adult learner. They make it easy for adult learners to come back to college,” she said.

Though it was a relief to feel welcome at Clark, paying for college was an ongoing source of angst for the mother. Reeves didn’t qualify for additional financial aid because her husband earned too much, but not enough to pay for college expenses. In order to pay the family’s bills plus tuition, Reeves worked multiple jobs while studying for her Nursing degree.

One day Clark’s Financial Aid department contacted her with a work-study position. Reeves remembers breaking down in tears, imaging how she would handle yet another part-time job.

“Great,” she muttered, “I can work more.” To her surprise, the opportunity was a blessing in disguise.

The work-study job consisted of washing pots and pans in the Culinary kitchen. But the stress of working multiple jobs quickly put her over the edge. One afternoon while taking a break from scouring pots, she began to cry. She was exhausted, she was broke and she was tired of having to work so hard. When her instructors heard about her story, they began offering her boxes of leftovers as a way to brighten up her day.

Ethel Reeves, front row, third from right, is seen here with her graduating class of 1992.

Ethel Reeves ’92, front row, third from right, is seen here with her graduating class.

“They fattened me right up! I couldn’t thank them enough because I didn’t have money for gas, let alone food. I even had to sleep in my car sometimes, because I was too tired to drive home,” Reeves recalls.

Reeves ’92 is forever grateful for the small and large gestures of kindness and compassion the Culinary staff offered her during her days as a student.

Today, Reeves makes it a point to give back to the college, especially to the Nursing and Transitional Studies programs, because of the many people who helped her emotionally and financially.

“I love that everyone gets a chance. No one should miss out on that opportunity because they couldn’t afford it,” said Reeves.

Reeves wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of others. Her success stems from remarkable individuals like her father and members of the Culinary department who guided her throughout her educational journey.

You too can affect a student’s life by giving to The Clark Fund. Your gift will help a student in need and change their future, just as Reeves’s life was transformed by the generosity of others. Please give to the Clark Fund today.

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