All in the Family

From Frank Farm to Frank Avenue
Kent State Stark was the best choice for her daughters because of the close-to-home location, academic reputation and lower tuition cost.

From Frank Farm to Frank Avenue, Debbie (Frank) Rehfus’ family ties to Kent State Stark are stronger than ever.

Debbie (Frank) Rehfus’ grandfather grew up on Frank Farm. You know the one. Kent State University purchased the picturesque Jackson Township property in 1967 and transformed it into the campus of Kent State University at Stark.

Debbie still has family members who live off Frank Avenue, near the former homestead.

But the Franks aren’t her only family ties to Kent State Stark. Debbie’s oldest daughter, Jennifer, attended the Stark Campus from 2006 to 2008, on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Kent State in 2010. Her middle daughter, Katie, graduated from Kent State Stark in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. And her youngest, Kristen, is currently a Stark Campus freshman.

“I can’t speak highly enough about Kent State Stark,” says Debbie. “I would have gone to the campus, as well, had it offered a full nursing degree when I went to college.”

Instead, Debbie went straight to Kent Campus to pursue a BSN. She had always wanted to be a nurse and Kent State had one of the best regarded nursing programs, she says.

Due to her ill father and her boyfriend, Mike, who was attending The University of Akron, Debbie preferred not to leave her Massillon home. Still, she made the 45-minute move to Kent Campus and lived there all four years. 

She was the first in her immediate family to attend Kent State.

Best Choice, Close to Home

After earning her BSN in 1986, Debbie returned to the Canton area and began a 25-year career as a registered nurse at Aultman Hospital. She and Mike married and built a family, three girls and two boys.

“When it came time for the kids to choose a college, Mike and I steered them,” says Debbie. “We thought highly of the schools we had attended, so we told each of our kids that if they chose The University of Akron or Kent State [Stark] and lived at home, we’d pay their tuition and they could graduate debt-free. If they wanted to live on campus somewhere, they’d have to cover the extra expenses.”

Jennifer, Katie and Kristen took the deal. So did their son, Michael, who graduated from The University of Akron in 2014. Another son, Matthew, will graduate from The Ohio State University in 2015 — although he earned 18 credit hours at Kent State Stark while in the post-secondary program at Jackson High School.

“My mom definitely influenced me, but I ultimately chose to attend Kent State Stark because there were so many things that I loved about the campus,” says Jennifer (Rehfus) Brown. “The small class sizes, the opportunities to be actively involved on campus and being close to home all made the transition to college a lot easier for me.”

From a parent’s perspective, Debbie says Kent State Stark was the best choice for her daughters because of the close-to-home location, academic reputation and lower tuition cost.

“Kent State Stark is a good choice for a lot of people who don’t want to be strapped with high student loan debt after they graduate,” she says.

The smaller, close-knit campus was valuable, as well, especially when Mike died of colon cancer while Jennifer and Katie were still in college.

“The professors at Kent State Stark were extremely caring and gave my kids all kinds of empathy during Mike’s illness and after he passed,” says Debbie. “They may not have gotten that on a larger campus.”

Debbie is grateful to Mike’s colleagues and friends who generously contributed to the Rehfus children’s college tuition through the Michael J. Rehfus Sr. Memorial Scholarship Fund. Mike had been the Stark County Engineer for six years before he died in 2009.

Continuing the Legacy

Today, the Rehfus family is still rooted in Jackson Township, where Debbie works as a school nurse. Jennifer teaches second grade in the Jackson Local School District and plans to graduate from Kent State Stark with her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in May. Katie is a nurse at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“Kent State Stark does a lot for our community,” says Debbie. “It’s an excellent university and produces quality graduates who contribute to our local economy. Our daughters have not had difficulty finding jobs close to home.”

Keeping her family close is even more special to Debbie now that grandchildren are on the way. Both Jennifer and Katie are expecting their first babies in early 2015.

“I would definitely encourage my future children to go to Kent State or Kent State Stark,” says Jennifer.

And the Frank family legacy continues.

UPDATED: Thursday, December 08, 2022 10:52 AM
Kent State University at Stark