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Published: Thursday, 6/12/2003

No stopping for this 94-year-old student of year

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Odie Cross is Student of the Year, and his framed certificate hangs on the wall of his home above seven others from the Sylvania Adult Education program.

Mr. Cross is in the adult basic literacy class, after he decided at age 90 “it was time to go to school.''

Now 94, Mr. Cross sits in the dining room of his home in Central Toledo with the hum of his computer in the background, and proudly points to the screen that holds a report he is writing about airports.

His calculator is on the table, next to papers filled with multiplication problems he has solved.

Mr. Cross said that the basic skills he has learned in the last few years have opened to him ways to learn beyond fundamental knowledge, “and I'm going to learn everything there is. There's no stopping,'' he said in a strong, determined voice.

His illiteracy was the result of a disadvantaged youth, he said.

After his parents died when he was 6, “I had to start scuffling along with different people,” he said. “I couldn't go to school. I had to work for a living.''

Mr. Cross said he was hired by farmers in his native Mississippi, and he lived with them while he worked for them.

At about age 12, he began a northern migration, moving from one job to another and at one point learning to be a crane operator.

When he got to Toledo about 50 years ago, he said, he got a job at the former Donovan Steel, where he worked slightly more than 30 years before retiring when he was 72.

His neighbor and tutor, Odessa Fletcher, 88, listening to him recall his early days, said, “He's made of genuine material. Younger people today are synthetic. They wouldn't - they couldn't - do what he did.''

His inability to read or write, he said, wasn't a big problem at work “because if they would show me what to do, I could do it and remember it. Even as a little kid coming up, if they could show me, I could do it.''

With a lifetime of work behind him and a comfortable pension, Mr. Cross didn't think about going to school. He has a large side yard he still tills each growing season and plants a vegetable garden that brings in a big crop each year.

His firm handshake, erect posture, and energy seem to be the result of a life of honest physical work and his lack of bad habits.

Mr. Cross never married and has no children. His niece, Virginia Rogers-Gandy is visiting him as she has done for a month or two every summer.

She pointed to a picture of Mr. Cross holding a cabbage, which he said weighed 13 pounds when he picked it from his garden.

A few years ago, Mr. Cross paid a man to help him navigate to his native Mississippi because he couldn't read the road signs. The result of the trip was a feeling that he was taken advantage of and the way to correct the problem was to learn to read and write, he said.

Mrs. Fletcher had helped him over the years, but after he began classes, a routine was established that he would meet with her over his schoolwork and practice the lessons.

He said he now can read well enough that he can drive any of his three cars to Mississippi without trouble.

She and Mr. Cross praised the adult education instructors who have taken an interest in his progress.

Mrs. Fletcher, who once worked as a substitute teacher in Georgia, said you can tell from the tone of their voices that they are proud of their students' progress.

“Some teachers are in the job for paydays and Sundays, but not these people,'' she said.

Diane Robarge, a coordinator and instructor in the adult education program, said Mr. Cross is by far the oldest participant, and she gave credit to Mrs. Fletcher for her help in tutoring.

Mr. Cross has already signed up for classes in September.



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