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A lesson in going beyond your boundaries
Gainesville woman, 71, graduates from college
Kathleen Yapp holds the graduation regalia she received from Gainesville State College and the University of Georgia. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English from UGA in December. - photo by Tom Reed

Celebrating Masons


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Any success in life comes with some perseverance and hard work.

So when Kathleen Yapp, 71, would hear friends of hers say they could never finish a certain task or achieve a particular goal — for example, going back to school to get a degree — she would counter that, yes, of course, anyone could.

And Yapp herself is the perfect example.

Last month, Yapp received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Georgia. It was an endeavor she started in 2003 by taking classes at Gainesville State College in Oakwood. Slowly, taking two classes a semester, she worked her way to a point where the Gainesville resident could start taking classes at the University of Georgia.

This was a far cry from the last time she had taken college-level courses, back in 1957 when she was studying music at Wayne State University in Michigan. Not long into her freshman year she met a man who soon became her husband.

“I dropped out of school to work so my husband could get his degree,” she said. “Through the years I took a couple of classes here and there, but never finished it up.”

So when the opportunity came again to go back to school, Yapt said she wanted to dive into literature and learn about the great writers.

“The classes were so exciting,” she said. “I love to learn, I love to study and I even am a little strange, I love to take tests ... I love the classes.”

All the Gainesville State and UGA professors were great, she said. And her younger classmates never made her feel like the grandma of the class.

Rather, she’s formed some close friendships through the years, too, and even stays in touch with some professors. In 2006, Yapt was voted Outstanding Nontraditional Student at Gainesville State.

Her children, son David West and daughter Lisa Henslee, plus Henslee’s two boys, made it to Gainesville for their mother’s graduation from UGA.

“I was just always amazed; at my age I can’t imagine going back,” West said. “I know people who are 25 and say they’re too old to go back.”

But it was setting all of that aside that intrigued Yapp about each class she took. At the start of each semester, she said, you were just a student ID number.

“I think what’s weird about the college experience, when you start a class, you are really anonymous,” she said. “Anything you did in the past, that was never a factor. ... It was a clean slate you started every time you started a class.”

Which was important for Yapp, who came into college pursuing an English degree with some writing experience already under her belt.

More than 40 years ago, she said, she began freelance writing for newspapers and magazines, eventually having more than 100 articles to her credit. She then moved into books, writing some of the first romance novels that had a Christian theme to them.

Her career in publishing — which led to 13 published books and a few more in some anthologies — also came because of a heavy dose of perseverance and hard work, she said.

“In the early ’80s I enjoyed reading romance novels and I thought this would be really great if it had a Christian connection, so I wrote to a Christian publisher, David C. Cook, and I asked them if they had ever considered Christian romance,” she said.

She submitted the first three chapters of her idea. A few weeks later, the publisher responded with a letter ripping apart what she sent.

“However, the last paragraph was, ‘If you would like to resubmit ...,’ she said. “I ended up publishing two books with them.” She also has Christian romance novels published by Zondervan and Silhouette.

But then again, at that point in her life, Yapp was no stranger to hard work — and learning its rewards.

Living in Los Angeles during the 1970s and 1980s, Yapp said she was always interested in singing the national anthem at a baseball or basketball game. Having studied voice in college and stayed with singing and music after getting married, Yapp said she bugged the management at the Los Angeles Lakers enough to get them agree to let her audition.

“So the fellow met me and we walked and walked and walked trying to find a place where I could sing for him,” she said. “We ended up in the visiting team’s locker room. He walked away from me, turned his back and said, ‘Now sing.’”

When she finished, he turned back around to face her.

“He said, ‘That’s great. It’s just the way I like it sung,’” she recalled. She started singing the national anthem for the Lakers, eventually getting in with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Kings. When she and her late husband moved to Gainesville from LA, Yapp also sang for the Atlanta Braves and the Hawks.

Today, most of her performances are limited to select Sundays at Gainesville First Church of the Nazarene, where she also teaches Sunday school.

Not long ago, Yapp said, a woman in her Sunday school class said she was thinking of quitting school, before finishing her associate degree.

“I find so many people who say to me, ‘Oh, I could never do that,’ — and this is all ages,” she said of finishing school. “And I keep saying to them, you could, if you really want to. And it takes work.”

Yapp said she kept telling her Sunday school student, “You can do it.”

And she finished.

“Do not underestimate your ability,” she said. “The secret is if you have the passion to go back and learn.”