Union graduate Wayne King dreams of retiring…again

An emotional Dr. Hawkins presents King with his diploma.  Photos Submitted
An emotional Dr. Hawkins presents King with his diploma.
Photos Submitted
King with his grandson Wyatt after Graduation.
King with his grandson Wyatt after Graduation.

This was not the first interview Wayne King has been asked to do. In fact, it almost seemed like he was expecting the invitation for some time now. You see, King has received a lot of attention over the past four years, for nothing more than going to school.

Until now, his life had been nothing out of the ordinary. Born in Athens, Ky., he was drafted by the Army his senior year of high school in 1965, he was stationed in Germany and Korea. King retired from his 20-year career with the Army in 1990 with a ranking of E-7, or Sergeant First Class. Then, at age 64, King retired again, this time from his job as a school bus driver in Fayette County, Ky., and followed his wife, Kay, to the small town of Barbourville.

Kay had been offered a job as an administrative assistant at Union College. She encouraged King to take advantage of their new situation and take some college classes. So, King enrolled as a full-time student and even did one better, he became a student athlete. After proving himself in his freshman year with an excellent GPA, King joined the men’s golf team. Then, in his sophomore year, he joined the men’s bowling team. He earned the title of Union College’s oldest student and oldest Student Athlete.

Wayne and his grandson Jake show off their matching lizard mohawks.
Wayne and his grandson Jake show off their matching lizard mohawks.

Wayne King was full of surprises. But, a very unwelcome surprise had yet to come. The summer before his senior year, disaster struck. King had been diagnosed with COPD in years prior, and had been treated for its symptoms off and on, but things just seemed to keep getting worse. It started with congestive heart failure, then doctors found a blood clot in his left lung, and he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Kay King said, “I just know they sent him home to die.”

The idea of graduating was starting to look bleak.

But, one again, King had a surprise in store. He received a pacemaker and underwent surgery to receive stints to improve blood flow. Kay nursed him slowly back to health. But, the ordeal took its toll on King’s body. He suffered from memory loss and had lost nearly 50 pounds from his already slender frame. However, with the support of his wife and family, his teachers and his friends, King finished his classes and earned his degree in recreational management. He says of his graduation, “I didn’t know if I could get across the stage or not. I was afraid that I would start bawling! Dr. Hawkins (Marcia Hawkins, Union College President) had already told me that she may cry, and I said, ‘Don’t! If you do I will too!'”

So, what’s next for a 68-year-old college graduate? An internship, of course. Wayne started his internship with Corbin Parks and Recreation Department at the Corbin Civic Center on June 8, and is scheduled to finish July 9.

His advice to other non-traditional students is, “Go to class everyday, ask questions if you don’t understand, and stay in the professor’s hip pocket.”

His plans after completing his internship?

“Retirement!”