Two people, both 106 years old, receive high school diplomas

March 5, 2013 

How often does someone receive a high school diploma at age 106? Probably more often than two 106-year-olds do.

Two weeks apart, officials in Ohio and Massachusetts announced that Reba Williams of Lucas, Ohio, and Fred Upton of Beverly, Mass., would receive diplomas.

Other than their shared rare age, Williams' and Upton's stories are quite different.

According to the Mansfield News Journal, Williams, whose father was a slave, completed her 12 years of schooling at Mount Vernon High School, but she never graduated. Her refusal to read an assigned book kept her from receiving a diploma.

The school even asked her to take it home and read it over the summer and they would give her the diploma if she wrote a report.

"(Reba) said the book was not worth reading and she'd already read it once and didn't like it and wasn't going to read it again," Williams' Lavata Williams told the News Journal.

Williams' working life included being the cook at Malabar Farm, the sprawling home of Puliltzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, from 1943 to 1957.

The farm, where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married in 1945, is now the 580-acre Malabar Farm State Park.

The Mount Vernon School Board voted Feb. 18 to give Williams a diploma. Arrangements have not yet been finalized, but Williams is expected to receive it in a few days.

In Beverly, Mass., Fred Butler was awarded an honorary diploma Monday during an emotional ceremony attended by school officials, state lawmakers and Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon.

"I thank everybody who is responsible for this," Butler said, wearing a mortar board hat and tassel, and holding the prized document in his hands. "I certainly appreciate it."

Butler was married for 65 years, raised five children, served in the Army during World War II and worked for years for the local water department, but it always bothered him that he never earned a diploma.

He dropped out of school before ninth grade to work full-time job at a print shop to support his mother and five younger siblings.

Daughter-in-law Cathy Butler said he always emphasized the importance of education to his children and grandchildren.

A grandson, Mike Calabro, said Butler gave him $5 for every A on his report card.

Butler launched the effort to get her father-in-law his diploma as a way to raise his spirits after the death of his wife, Ruth, last year.

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