Mary Celeste Starzyk, MA ’19, Kent, Ohio, graduated on Dec. 13, 2019, with her second master’s degree, this time in art history, at the age of 76. She and her husband, Lawrence J. Starzyk, PhD, Professor Emeritus of English at Kent State, met when they were both studying English literature at the University of Chicago. She earned a master’s degree and he earned a doctorate.
Married for 52 years, they have five children. Kathleen (Starzyk) Lauber, BA ’91, BSN ’95, Solon, Ohio; Topher Starzyk, MEd ’99, EdS ’00, Kent, Ohio; Jaimie (Starzyk) Stitzel, BBA ’05, MBA ’11, Houston (adopted from Korea) are alumni. Julia (Starzyk) Gill, Ravenna, Ohio (adopted from Nepal), is currently working on a degree in education at Kent State (as is grandson Jacob Lauber). And Anastacia (“Ana”) Starzyk (adopted from DR Congo) is working on graduating from Roosevelt High School in 2023 and hopes to attend Kent State.
Thanks to Kent State’s exchange program, two Fulbright scholarships and connections with colleagues, Starzyk and her husband have lived and taught in a variety of countries: Japan, Thailand, Nepal and Italy.
In 1991, she established the American Nepalese Congolese Children’s Foundation to help people interested in adopting from Nepal (and later DR Congo), which she describes as “the most important work of my life.” While working as a full-time teacher, she placed approximately 60 children for adoption—50 from Nepal and 10 from DR Congo—before US laws changed, and she is no longer able to place children for adoption.
She is now working to establish one-month rotation programs for medical students at Tribuvan Hospital in Nepal and a briefer program for Kent State nursing students to visit and shadow in the leprosy hospital and other medical institutions in Nepal.
According to Starzyk, “The purpose of these programs is 1) to help students learn about medicine as it is practiced in poverty-stricken countries, 2) to help medical students develop an understanding for the medical problems of the poor, and 3) to help students develop firsthand information about tropical diseases and related problems.”
After teaching for about 48 years at Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education, where she had worked as a reading specialist and French teacher, she retired in 2011. Missing a school atmosphere, she signed up to audit classes at Kent State. After one of her classes, Gus Medicus, PhD, associate professor of art history, suggested she work for a second master’s degree in art history.
With the deadline for acceptance into the master’s program only a week away, Starzyk says it took the diligence of many people—including a KSU administrative assistant who crawled over boxes in a storeroom to find some documents Starzyk had submitted years earlier for a different program—to enable her to file all the necessary documents within the deadline.
“I have loved my studies!” she says. “Our time in Rome allowed me to do research on Bernini. Dr. Medicus became my advisor for my thesis. Now, I can’t understand why I didn’t study art history the first time around.
“One of my goals, when I decided to officially return to school to study for a second master’s, was to be the oldest person crossing the stage. I think I’ve succeeded.”
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