Jerry Cole II takes great pride in his career as a businessman, during which he’s sold millions of dollars in insurance policies.
But there was one more thing he always wanted.
Feeling as nervous as a 20-something, Cole walked across the stage on May 5 and got his associate degree in organizational leadership from Purdue University.
By the way, he’s 87 years old.
“It was something I wanted to do,” said Cole, the oldest student in Purdue’s College of Technology. “I had been traveling for 30 years across Europe, selling and informing military personnel about life insurance. One day I woke up and was tired of it.”
Cole, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from Norfolk, Va., said getting a degree was something he thought was important. Now he wants to further his education, hopefully going on to earn a bachelor’s degree and then a Ph.D. in organizational leadership.
“You’re never too old to learn,” he said. “I’m planning to take classes this summer.”
Returning to school is something he probably wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for a piece of paper he found in the mid-1990s. His 1982 transcript from Purdue showed he had taken an accounting class, giving him three credits on record as a student.
“I found that transcript and decided to frame it,” Cole said. “It became a constant reminder of why I needed to get back in school.”
His wife, Faye, never took her husband’s educational ambitions seriously until one day in 2009, when he came home and revealed that he had registered for courses.
“He mentioned that he wanted to get back in school,” said Faye, a relocation specialist and owner of Lafayette Relocation Services. “I just let him talk and talk. I never thought it was something he’d really do.”
Cole was a Prudential salesman before moving to Lafayette in 1962. He was a general agent for Lafayette Life Insurance Co. and became vice president in the marketing department. He retired from that position in 1989 and went back to selling life insurance policies — a job he still holds.
Faye sometimes helped him write papers for classes, especially after he turned in a handwritten, single-spaced term paper that a professor didn’t accept.
“He’s always been in charge and in control of things,” she said. “Sometimes I had to step in and help him.”
Raven Smathers, a secretary in the College of Technology, called Cole’s accomplishment “a huge thing to do at age 87. Everyone knows it’s a struggle for people of any age to take college classes while managing time, family and other things.”
The Coles have three children, two stepchildren, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“Hearing about something like this is awesome and inspiring,” said Christy Bozic, director of Purdue’s College of Technology.
Cole might be 90 by the time he earns a bachelor’s degree. He will continue selling insurance for Lafayette Life in a joint-business space he shares with his wife.
“I enjoy working, but my schooling is important. It just takes time and commitment, and of course, money.”