70-Year-Old Is Oldest of USC Upstate’s Graduating Class

December 16, 2013 at 10:20 am

AlvaGraduating from college in your 20s is exciting, but for 70-year-old Dr. Alva Pack it’s even better the second time around.

Pack will walk with members of the University of South Carolina Upstate’s graduating class of 2013 at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17 at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium.

Video of Dr. Pack.

Pack said too many of his friends had died before they had been able to do what they had wanted to do in retirement. So at age 65, Pack sold his successful optometry practice that he had operated for more than 40 years to his partners, Drs. Louis and Janell Martin, and he cut his time at work back to a day and a half a week. He said he got busy doing the things he wanted to do.

“I wanted to keep active mentally, instead of working crossword puzzles and playing Sudoku, so I decided to go back to USC Upstate,” Pack said.

This wasn’t the first time that Pack had attended USC Upstate. After graduating from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn., at the age of 26 and joining an established practice in Spartanburg, Pack started work on his master’s degree. Pack said at the time, he thought he might want to teach. But with a baby due in 1972 and construction beginning on his office on East Henry Street, Pack said there just wasn’t time to finish his degree.

Pack said a patient had mentioned that if you were of a certain age, you could take classes for free at state-supported colleges and universities. Pack said he decided to go back to school and with hours already toward a degree, he decided to pursue his Bachelor of Arts degree.

“I was out here piddling,” Pack said. “I took music appreciation, art appreciation, a speech course, religion, law and just accumulated those courses and I asked what courses I needed to earn my bachelor of arts.”

Pack said he audited some courses and the ones he really wanted to study, he took for credit.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Pack said. “I’ve got two grandkids in college, so I was 67, 68, 69, 70, with these kids who were 17, 18, 19, 20, like my grandkids, so it was fun.”

Pack said he studied hard for his classes at USC Upstate. He said only taking one course per semester was a luxury he had not been afforded during his undergraduate studies.

His favorite class, one for which he didn’t receive credit, was art appreciation.

“My wife’s mother was an artist and we do a lot of traveling and have been to art museums all around the world, so that art class has helped me out.”

With prices for some textbooks at $100 or more, Pack, an avid hunter, said he searched for used books. He said with the money he saved, he could buy “shells.” He said seeing those prices helped him identify with fellow students and the student he had been years earlier – working, going to school and trying to pay for it all.

“I worked my way through college,” Pack said. “So we had something in common. I bagged groceries at the A&P and it took me three years to get out of a junior college. You can do it if you want to. I didn’t have a whole lot of money then, neither do these kids.”

It was those memories that tugged at Pack’s heartstrings and made him want to help a couple of classmates, who also had become friends. Pack said he purchased a textbook for one and paid half of the cost of a new laptop for another.

“I’m hoping that they will pay it forward to someone else,” Pack said.

After having attained an associate, two bachelors and a doctorate, Pack said he doesn’t plan to stop learning.

While he won’t pursue another degree, he said there’s much more that he can benefit from at USC Upstate. He said he’d love to take some history, botany and geology courses.

“I’ve told all my friends about USC Upstate,” Pack said. “The campus is beautiful, the professors are nice, and it’s free if you’re over 62 and semi-retired. Keeping your mind active is one of the better things you can do and supporting USC Upstate is another thing you can do after you retire.”

Pack is a member of the Spartanburg Sertoma Club and has served as the past president of the Spartanburg Jaycees, Civitan Club, and the South Carolina Optometric Association. He and his wife, Janice, attend First Presbyterian of Spartanburg.