Grof: Fulfilling a Dream at MHC
Photo: Fred LeBlanc
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
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 awardand
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."