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Theresa Grof: Fulfilling a Dream at MHC

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

May 24, 2002

Theresa Grof: Fulfilling a Dream at MHC

Photo: Fred LeBlanc

Theresa Grof

Combine two full college course loads, one full-time job, an eight-year-old daughter, a three-year-old son and a baby due in the fall, and you've summed up the Agawam household of Theresa Grof and her husband, Kevin. Don't worry. Grof, a 2002 Holyoke Community College graduate who will attend MHC as a Frances Perkins Scholar and the recipient of the Newhall Award this fall, has everything figured out. And if you're tempted to offer her a discouraging word, know this: Grof is not one to be easily discouraged. When she earns her diploma, she will become the first in her family with a college degree. And the correct word is "when," not "if." "Oh, no, I'll finish," she says. "I've never not finished anything."

As a young girl growing up in Fredericktown, Missouri, Grof was determined to go to college. Her father, believing a college education was beyond the family's limited means, instead persuaded her to join the military. Grof enlisted in the Air Force, where her desire for an education led her to be trained as a pharmacy technician. Still believing that college lay in her future, she enrolled in the G.I. Bill program, setting aside part of her pay to help with future tuition.

While stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, she met her husband. The couple entered civilian life, she taking a job at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis, and he going to work for MCI. After the birth of their son, Henry, another job opportunity brought them to Worcester, Massachusetts. College still figured prominently in their plans, though. Two years ago, Grof's husband took a job at Westover Air Reserve Base, working the second shift so that he could pursue a teaching degree at Westfield State College. The couple moved from Worcester to Agawam, and Grof, who had been studying at Quinsigamond Community College, transferred to Holyoke Community College.

One night, while searching the Internet, Grof's husband discovered the Frances Perkins Program on the MHC Web site. "He said, 'Hey, they've got a program for people like you,'" Grof recalls. "I said, 'Don't be silly. We can't afford that.' He said, 'Well, just think about it.'" At HCC, an adviser, Anne Barry, offered more encouragement. "She said, 'I think your grades are wonderful, and you should try,'" Grof says.

She applied for the College's Harriet Newhall Award, given each year to the applicant from Holyoke Community College with the highest grade-point average. The grant, established in 1973 to honor the woman who served as the College's director of admissions from 1928 to 1958, allows the recipient to attend MHC tuition-free.

When the acceptance letter arrived, "I started crying. I said, 'It's nice that I'm accepted, but I can't afford to go.' Then I turned the page, and I saw that I had gotten the award—and I started crying even more," she says.

With the arrival of the couple's third child due right around the beginning of the academic year, Theresa has decided to begin with two classes, "to get my feet wet." The plan is for her to take classes in the morning while her husband is home with the children, and for them to switch roles in the afternoon. In the evening, her husband will head off to his job at Westover, while she takes care of the children. Grof is considering a major in environmental studies, attracted by its interdisciplinary nature and the opportunities it offers for working in the outdoors. In her future, she says, may lie a career in conservation with a government agency.

Why has higher education had such a pull for Grof? Love of knowledge and the desire to set an example for her children are part of the answer, but there's more, she says. "I think women have to work harder to get respect. I want an opportunity. Even if I don't do anything spectacular, at least I will have had a choice."

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