June 18, 2021 at 11:54 a.m.
It doesn’t take much to imagine North Branch resident Jo Ann Hamblin, who raised seven kids and has 14 grandchildren, attending a slew of grad parties and commencement ceremonies during her 86 years on earth.
Something she alone has carried since leaving school as a teen, however, is an image of herself as her high school diploma is being handed to her. She didn’t get to wear a cap and gown when the calendar said she should be. She didn’t get to feel that sense of accomplishment and opportunity, until just recently.
Jo Ann completed her high school coursework and finished the required credits last year. That commencement event was postponed due to a once in a lifetime pandemic but, last month it all came together when she walked with the Pine City High School Class of 2021.
Jo Ann’s story is one of epic stick-to-it-ness.
She left regular school in the 1940s. It wasn’t until much later she would realize what had been missing in her early learning, instilling in her great frustration and anxiety over being unable to read. She had never gotten lessons in pronunciation.... the way to sound out ‘ph’ that sounds like ‘f ‘ for instance, or the ‘t-i-o-n’ you say as ‘shun.”
Jo Ann went off to become a cosmetologist in 11th grade. She married, she ran a quite large household. The 50’s and 60’s came and went. Her mother suffered a back injury in the 1980s and Jo Ann went to help.
Jo Ann’s daughter Kathy Barrett says Jo Ann resided with Grandma for years. When there were brief breaks and a few hours to spare, Jo Ann got into an adult education program there in Florida.
Jo Ann was at a second grade reading level, her daughter Kathy shared.
“Just doing part-time courses she brought that up to 10th grade level.”
Jo Ann came to live with Kathy and her husband Jarod, in North Branch, and that’s when she completed the credits. Praising her Mom, Kathy added, “She had two years left (from when she stopped at 11th grade) and it took her 32 years to achieve her high school diploma, but she did it.”
Kathy’s husband Jarod and a brother-in-law Lyning Peterson get lots of thanks for pitching in as tutors. They helped keep study materials in order and current, and did the picking up and dropping off at the North Branch learning center.
Adult Basic Education program supervisor Julie Hawkinson says a lot of people can do a good portion of high school courses on-line now— but in Jo Ann’s case materials consisted of hard copy workbooks, etc. There was not much technology involved.
According to Kathy, Hawkinson “...bent over backwards” for her mother. She had only glowing remarks about the St. Croix Education District adult programs and staff at North Branch’s area office for SCRED.
Kathy continued, “Plus she (Jo Ann) had those two great tutors (Jarod and Lyning) who made sure assignments were clear and helped explain things.”
Being an octogenarian Jo Ann naturally has had more than a little “life experience” to contribute towards a few high school credits. Art courses were a snap and health and nutrition are dear to Jo Ann’s heart. She is an accomplished painter and has studied and lived healthful habits. In turning 87 very soon, one could assume Jo Ann capable of writing the Adult Basic Education health and nutrition course.
Hawkinson shared that it was a “privilege” to work with Jo Ann as she focused on wrapping up her diploma.
Hawkinson introduced Jo Ann at commencement exercises, which were held at Pine City High School as the issuer of SCRED diplomas.
Hawkinson told the audience she wished she could bottle and give away just a little of Jo Ann’s drive and determination to other students,
She said, “More than once Jo Ann encountered life difficulties that forced her to set aside her goal to become a high school graduate but she never gave up....even though life got in the way many times (she) never stopped moving toward the goal.”