Barbara Daniels

Barbara Daniels earned an associate degree from Southern Arkansas University in 1980, and a bachelor of arts degree in business administration in December.

When Barbara Daniels received her associate’s degree from Southern Arkansas University in 1980, one of the pictures captured her with her daughter on her hip.

When she received her bachelor’s in December 2018, her grandchildren were cheering her on from the gymnasium stands.

It may have taken Daniels 38 years to complete her bachelor’s degree, but she said that doesn’t make getting it less sweet. For her, attaining her business administration degree in general business, with a minor in management, was something she always wanted to do.

“I would tell anyone it’s never too late to follow your dreams,” Daniels said. “People may think if you are 50 years old you can’t go back to school, but I turned 60 years old in November before I finished my degree.”

But the road to her four-year degree was not easy. Hardships paved the way like taking care of her ailing grandmother, aunt, and most of her workdays were 16-hour shifts. She worked days at Columbia County Independent Living, Inc., for developmentally delayed females from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the office and as an instructor. Meanwhile, she worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Wentworth Place as a certified nursing assistant.

Her longtime friend Julia Machen worked with her at Columbia County Independent Living for 21 years and steadily encouraged Daniels to go back to school for her degree.

“I’ve never been so proud of anybody in my life,” Machen said. “Just to be 60 years old and finished, that is just amazing. Whatever Barbara wants to do she does it well. I am just so proud of her. Being in school she was working sometimes 16-hour shifts at Wentworth and then going to class and then staying up studying. I don’t know how she did it.”

Daniels started the adventure of going back to school with her first online class in 2015 and said she was comforted by the other nontraditional students in the class who understood how it felt to go back to college after being out of school for so long.

Of course, the students who were coming to college straight from high school helped her in computer classes where the material was fresh to them and they had already aced it recently. She said she enjoyed getting help from students she related to as she would her grandchildren.

“I had grandchildren their age and a granddaughter going to school then and when she passed me on campus she would say, ‘hey granny’,” Daniels said, smiling. “I think that is kind of unique to go to college and be a grandmother too.”

When she started her math classes for the degree, she had to begin with a class called transitional math because she had never taken algebra at Magnolia High School. She graduated from high school in 1976.

“It’s like a beginner’s algebra and the wonderful teachers took extra time if you had questions,” she said. “The tutoring center is a marvelous place to go. I lived there some semesters.”

Her children also were supportive of her while she was going to college and stressing out about her grades, she said.

Daniels has three children: Tonya Christopher, Jermillian Daniels and Brandon Williamson. She has nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“My son always told me just pass the classes, you don’t have to make the Dean’s List,” she said.

However, she sometimes showed him some of her Algebra homework and asked him to see if he could work it out for her just to show him it wasn’t easy.

“It’s easy for people to tell you to try this or that until they get in there and feel the frustration themselves,” she said. “I told him to go over and show me how you do it.”

Daniels got a B in college algebra. She was more proud of the C she got in a computer class that centered on Microsoft Access and Excel because she had no background in either of the programs and found them challenging.

One of her most inspirational professors taught supply chain management. He talked about the management practices of Walmart.

Daniels works as a member of the mod price change team at Walmart. The job entails moving products to different areas in the store and ensuring they are priced correctly. July 26 marked her one-year anniversary with the company.

“He was so inspirational about that class that he could have been a preacher,” she said. “He was so bubbly he would make you want to learn that it just motivated you.”

Working at Walmart is like working at any other place in terms of the stress, she said.

“It’s just like any other job,” she said. “Some days are stressful, and some are not.”

She also works PRN at Wentworth and when she doesn’t get called in, her clients let her know about it on her next shift as she is very much missed. However, she said in she had to take a break from Wentworth in 2018 because it became too hard on her when her clients would pass away.

“I still visit them but when they do have to pass it got a little hard when you are used to seeing them daily,” she said.

Neither job is what she went to school for, but she remains hopeful that she will find the job of her dreams in an office setting where she would be responsible for administrative work. Now that she has the degree, she is qualified for that kind of job that she has wanted for so long.

“I’m so grateful to have my bachelor’s degree,” she said. “The door will open when it’s time and I’ll have a job. I’m just waiting for the door to open.”

For now, she is applying online for jobs and waiting to see what happens. Meanwhile, she’s keeping her jobs -- including administrative work for a local daycare. A job has to mean more to a person than a paycheck, particularly in caring for people, she said.

“You have to love what you do and to be motivated,” she said. “The thing is you must love what you are doing. If you are there for a paycheck, you are in the wrong job. It’s not about the money.”

Machen said she and Daniels have been through every part of life together as friends and that her friend makes a special difference in the lives of all she touches. She said she has no doubt she would make that kind of difference in her future endeavors.

“We have been through everything: death, funerals, and births, just everything in each other’s lives,” she said. “She loved the clients so much at Columbia County Independent Living that she didn’t like the way their parents treated them. She would go to her deathbed caring for clients. She would come in and tell them goodbye and kiss them on the cheek and they would say when are you coming back. That means a lot and tells you what kind of person she was.”

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