Strattons Celebrate 100th Birthday and Fourth-Generation NMU Student

Irene Stratton, who epitomized “lifelong learning” by graduating from NMU at the age of 72, recently celebrated her centennial. Among those attending her 100th birthday party last month was great-grandson James Stratton of South Lyon. He will become the fourth generation of the family to attend Northern, preceded by Irene (’81), her son, Jim (’60), and grandson, Greg (’83).  All are pictured at right.

The party for Irene’s milestone almost doubled as an alumni gathering. In fact, an NMU banner was displayed prominently alongside the “Happy Birthday” poster. Several other relatives and friends earned degrees from Northern. Irene started out in biology before shifting to a geography and earth science major.

“I had a chance for a free education,” she said. “When Mr. Jamrich was president, they wanted senior citizens to take classes to build up the student numbers, so they offered us free tuition. My husband had just retired. He said, ‘Let’s go to college.’ Too many people who are older don’t feel like they want to do anything. They just sit like little lumps. I wasn’t that way. I had to be busy and I always enjoyed education.

“It took me more than seven years to finish. I couldn’t handle the mental stress of the full 16 credit hours; not at my age. It took me so long that my grandson was on campus at the same time I was. The young students would ask why I’d go to school at that time in my life. I said I didn’t have the opportunity when I got out of high school like they did.”

Instead, the Escanaba native went right to work. She served as a store clerk handling yard goods –“most people sewed in those days”—then went to a business school to study shorthand, typewriting and bookkeeping.

Irene said she had worked five years as a telephone operator and bookkeeper when she met her husband, Ed, who was employed by the former Michigan Bell. While Ed’s job took them across the Upper Peninsula, Irene found work in various locations as a church organist and choir director. The couple eventually settled on Magnetic Street in Marquette. Ed passed away before completing his NMU degree. Irene donned a cap and gown to accept her diploma.

“The whole family was there when she graduated,” said her son, Jim, of Brighton. “When they got to her name, they stopped everything and announced that she was the first senior citizen to start college after retirement. And she graduated magna cum laude with a 3.6 grade point average.”

NMU alumni and one incoming student attending Irene's birthday celebration were: (front row): Pat Stratton Polazzo, Jim Stratton, Irene Stratton, Joan Stratton Conrad and James Stratton; (back row): Mike Williams, Don Stratton, Pauline Stratton, Susie Conrad, Greg Stratton, Pam Cornok, Jeff Cornok, Mike Eberhart and Kelly Greenleaf Lynch. Not available for the photo, but also NMU grads, were Irene and Dar Gager (Public Safety).

Grandson Greg recalls spending his senior year at NMU in Irene’s basement. “My friends liked hanging out at her house, too. We would buy beer, make pizzas and sit and watch football with her. When I had a tough time finding a summer job, my parents would send her a check for rent, but she would always end up just signing it over to me.”

Irene relies on a wheelchair for mobility after a recent stroke, but her mind and memory remain sharp. When asked her secret to longevity, she replied: “I say I’m 100 and have to laugh because I don’t believe it. Having a positive outlook and a good sense of humor is important. I never smoked, but I did drink a cocktail now and then. I really don’t know what accounts for it.”

Great-grandson James extended his stay to attend summer orientation with his parents. Despite the family tradition, he said he felt no pressure to attend Northern.

“I’ve known for a while I wanted to come here for college. My dad has told me good things about the university and Marquette and he’s brought me up here a lot over the years. I love hockey, snowboarding and the beautiful landscape, so I think it will be a good fit.”

If his prediction holds true, James will likely add his name to the impressive list of Stratton relatives who are proud NMU alumni.


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Updated: July 17, 2009

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