Sixty years of creating opportunities

I don’t believe I would be where I am today if Ohio University had not established a Belmont County campus 60 years ago.

I had not been born when those first college-level classes were offered at Martins Ferry High School in 1957. My family had not yet moved to this part of the state, and I don’t believe either of my parents were planning to pursue degrees of their own at that point.

OU responded to the influx of students created by the G.I. Bill that allowed World War II veterans to pursue higher education by establishing five locations throughout southeastern Ohio that would eventually serve tens of thousands of students. My dad, the late Jim Compston, was a WWII veteran, and I know he attended OU at Athens for at least a short time. But that is not the reason Ohio University Eastern came to play such a big role in my life.

I did not graduate from OUE, although I did take a few summer classes there while on break from Wright State University near Dayton. Instead, OUE changed my life and the lives of all my immediate family members because my mother, the late Grace Compston, decided to study there.

Mom was born and raised in Jackson, Ohio, the only girl in a family of five. She excelled in school and was a gifted singer. She was curious, loved reading and writing poetry and was a hard worker. But, like many young women who graduated from high school in the 1940s, she found that her parents had not planned for her to go to college. Instead, they expected her to meet a nice man, get married and raise a family. That would allow them to devote their resources to ensuring her brothers had the opportunity to get college degrees.

Mom did as expected. She and Dad met when he returned from the war while she was still in high school. They eloped on her 19th birthday, and they soon found themselves raising two young sons. Mom stayed at home with the boys until they went off to school, then she became active with parent-teacher organizations, church choirs, community softball teams and more.

In the meantime, Dad went to work for Ohio River Collieries. When that company moved from Gallia County to Belmont County in the 1960s, our family relocated as well. That was when Mom decided she would get her bachelor’s degree by taking classes at the new “Branch” campus of OU near St. Clairsville.

During her junior year there, Mom became pregnant with me. She continued her studies — at a slower pace — after I was born. She completed her degree in elementary education before I started kindergarten. And it was a good thing that she did.

The year I started school, Dad had a heart attack. He was unable to work for a few months, and that’s when Mom’s degree came in handy. Because she had obtained that education, she was able to go to work, first as a substitute teacher and then as a full-time remedial reading teacher. Thanks to Mom, our family still had an income.

Mom worked for the Union Local School District in that capacity throughout my elementary years. She later became a principal after completing her master’s degree through the University of Dayton. She served as principal at Bethesda and Belmont elementary schools before overseeing the opening of the new, consolidated Union Local Elementary in 1998. She remained in the position of principal of that building until her retirement.

I still remember going with Dad to pick Mom up from her classes in that big, brick building with the impressive white columns at its main entrance. I recall attending a production of “Snow White” in the OUE theater when I was very small. I was terrified of the wicked witch, portrayed, I believe, by our friend Marilyn Hinkle-Dellman. I remember going with my brother, Larry, when he played tennis on the courts that used to lie just off the driveway at OUE.

I have many, many memories that give OUE a special place in my heart. But it was the opportunities the local university campus provided for my family that really made a difference in my life.

Not only was Mom able to work as a professional educator when Dad was sick, but she continued to do so after he recovered. That meant that our family was better able to afford to provide me with opportunities throughout my high school and college years. Watching Mom complete her degree and put it to use also served to inspire me — and I believe my brothers — to work hard and obtain college educations of our own. In fact, my oldest brother, Steve, completed two degrees at OUE.

Congratulations to Ohio University Eastern and its faculty, staff and alumni on a successful 60 years, and thank you for making success stories possible for so many local residents!