Retiree, Vietnam veteran James Baylor returns to college for his degree

Monday, January 7, 2013
James Baylor is working toward a bachelor's degree at Southeast Missouri State University. (Fred Lynch)

When 65-year-old James Baylor retired from the City of Cape Girardeau's wastewater plant in July, he didn't choose to live the life of a leisurely retiree. Instead, he returned to college at Southeast Missouri State University, where he had first attended more than 40 years ago.

"I attended SEMO from the fall of 1966 until the spring of 1969," says Baylor. "I was in a pre-engineering program back then."

Military service interrupted Baylor's education. He joined the Marines in 1969, where he served in the infantry for two years.

"I was stationed in Vietnam for awhile," says Baylor.

After military service, Baylor returned to Cape Girardeau and went to work for the wastewater plant, where he was named chief operator in 1995 and wastewater treatment coordinator in July 2011. Baylor retired from the plant in July and began taking classes at Southeast in the fall.

"I went back to school for two reasons," he says. "For one, I wanted to get my degree. And secondly, I don't know if a lot of people know this, but if you are 65 years old or older, you only have to pay 10 cents on the dollar to go to a state school in Missouri."

Baylor is working on a degree in secondary education with an emphasis in math.

"My adviser told me that I am one of the few older students that is actually working on a degree," he says. "Most older students who are taking college classes are just taking a class or two to learn how to do a specific thing, like a PowerPoint presentation or how to become better at computers. But I really want to get my degree."

Baylor's son, James W. Baylor III (Tray), is also attending Southeast, and the father and son even have a trigonometry class together.

"We sit right beside each other in the class," he says. "At first, it was a bit confusing for the instructor. We always make sure that we put our student ID number on all of our work so it doesn't get mixed up."

Baylor says technology is, without a doubt, the biggest change since he attended college in the 1960s.

"I also think that the courses are more comprehensive and detailed, and I believe that the students are smarter now than I remember them being back then," he adds.

Southeast's campus has also changed since Baylor was a student the first time around.

"The campus has really grown and there are a lot more buildings," he says.

In addition to attending college, Baylor still works at the wastewater plant about 10 hours a week.

"I still give tours of the plant for an environmental biology class at SEMO, and I still help with the budget and things like that," he says.

He and his wife, Rebecca, have been married for 34 years. In addition to Tray, who is 20, they have two grown daughters: Leslie, 35, and Sara, 27.

"In our spare time we like to go camping and travel," says Baylor.

He is unsure what he will do after he gets his degree.

"It depends on how long it takes me to finish up," he says.

Baylor has some tips for older students returning to college or entering for the first time. "Get used to studying! I am taking a 13-hour class load, and I spend about double that studying," he says. "There are also lots of out-of-class projects to work on, so it takes a lot of time."

Baylor also advises older prospective students to get in good physical shape before returning to college.

"You are going to do lots of walking and stair-climbing," he says. "So get in shape before you start!"W

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