CORVALLIS - Long past the age when most people have settled into retirement, Mooredeean Black is not only receiving her first university diploma this month at Oregon State University, she's planning a move to New York and a leap into fashion design.
It's been, she says, a long, tough journey for the 75-year-old daughter of a Native American mother and an African American father. One of 10 children born to the couple on a remote Creek Indian reservation, Black said she and her brothers and sisters wer e lucky to complete fifth grade.
"We were pretty much your typical poor family with not much of a chance to go to school," Black said. "We worked hard for everything. Then my father died and left my mother with small children, so we moved to southern Illinois, which is where I actually g rew up.
"I tried to keep up with school," but day-to-day survival got in the way. It was difficult to make it to school when her family was busy chasing farm and industrial jobs just to get enough money for food and shelter, she said.
As she matured, school was pushed aside for marriage and while Black said she expressed a desire to return to school "my husband, he didn't want me to go to school."
After several years of marriage and the birth of three children, Black's husband walked out on the family.
"After he walked out, I had to get out and get to work. It's only by the grace of God that we are alive," she sighed, "by the grace of God we made it."
But along with tragedy came opportunity.
"After he left, I was able to go back to high school in 1957. I started when one of my sons was a sophomore in the same high school, but he finished long before I did - I finally graduated in 1966.
"It wasn't easy going back to high school or supporting the family. We didn't accept handouts or any welfare and it was a very difficult time. I was trying to raise my family and work to put food on the table as well as get them the little extras."
Influenced by her own childhood when her mother "made all our clothes, I made sure my children were always the best-dressed children," she said.
Two years after getting her high school diploma, Black set her sights on a college education. It was a slow but rewarding process, interrupted by moves to Portland, Eugene and a series of jobs and setbacks that would have derailed many college students. < p> "I picked strawberries and beans," she said, adding that she tried to train as a medical technician at Oregon Health Sciences University when adversity struck again. While working at a Willamette Valley food cannery in 1979, she was seriously injured in a n industrial accident.
"It took quite a while to recover - my doctor, he told me that I was good for nothing but a wheelchair - but I proved him wrong."
Black continued working and going to school and along the way, managed to earn three two-year associate degrees, as well as enroll in classes at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. On Sunday, June 11, the seven decades of hard work will pay off when Black finally earns the bachelor of science degree in liberal studies that she began pursuing in 1968. The OSU commencement ceremony begins at 2 p.m. in Gill Coliseum and will be televis ed live on Oregon Public Broadcasting. But that isn't the end of the line for Black. She plans to return to OSU in the fall to take a few more fashion and apparel classes, but already she has her eyes set on the big city.
"I guess I got my interest in clothing from my mother and I'm still interested in that field. I hope to go to New York and get some work in a fashion house. Eventually, I'd like to start my own business with my own creations."
In the meantime, Black isn't planning to relax.
With "countless" grandchildren, she still plans to get out this summer and "hop, skip and jump" with the kids. In her spare time she'll continue her work with the Emerald Valley Quilters, making quilts for underprivileged children, as well as stuffed toy bears for the Child Advocacy Center and book bags for Eugene Public Library's "Read With Me" program.
For Mooredeean Black, retirement may never come.
Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.
Mooredeean Black, 541-713-7384