It’s never too late for a new beginning.
That’s the philosophy of Nelda Rose Turner, who – in her sixties – enrolled as a student at Kilgore College to study journalism and advertising. She needed to learn more about advertising and digital marketing, she said, to better manage the small business she started.
On Wednesday, Turner turned 70 years-old. She celebrated with her classmates and fellow journalists in the Bettye Craddock Journalism Lab on the KC campus, where they produce the campus newspaper, The Flare.
“Great!” Turner said, when asked how she felt about being the oldest student to study journalism at KC.
“I love being around the young adults that are here. They keep me young, energized, you know. I learn things from them every single day, which is great. It keeps me young at heart,” she said.
While she didn’t plan to work on the newspaper at first, Turner was brought into the program with the encouragement of Rachel Stallard, KC’s journalism adviser and advertising instructor.
“Mrs. Stallard hooked me in. I went to advertising because I didn’t understand social media. So I wanted to learn about advertising and, of course, she immediately said ‘you need Mass Communications and News 1!’ and you just stay after that.”
Turner studied journalism and worked on the school paper in high school but moved away from the news trade to pursue a successful career with AT&T. She attended college over the years but life’s demands kept her occupied with other things.
“I’d gone in the '70s, I had about nine hours. Then I went back when I was in my forties and then, you know, life just got in the way. With AT&T and their marketing department, they paid me so much money that college kind of just faded. I actually came back to college because I did not know about advertising in this new social media world. So once I came back, they said you’ve almost got enough hours to go ahead and finish. So the counselors and registrar said ‘Why don’t you transfer all of your credits here and finish up?’ They kind of encouraged me that it’s never too late to finish a dream so that’s why I’m here today.”
Now, she’s well on her way to earning an associate’s degree in December and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree after that.
“It’s been full circle for me now,” she said.
Returning to school was part of a larger goal for Turner: managing her small business, Cherished Eternal Glass. The company works with a master glassblower to create custom memorials for the loved ones and family members of people who choose to be cremated.
“When I got moved to do that and had to do Facebook and social media, I had no idea about marketing anymore. It has just evolved. So that’s what really hooked me back into college, I need to know how to understand the new media stuff and how to gauge that.”
While working for AT&T from 1969 to 1990, Turner received plenty of marketing training from the company, which it considered equivalent to a college education.
“I made a lot of money for awhile,” she said. “I did the same thing that men did and made the same amount of money.”
The company transferred her to Seattle where she worked and lived for 15 years. At heart, however, she was always a true Texan.
“I was born in Dallas, grew up in Dallas and came home to Texas. Although I grew up in Dallas, my father grew up in Palestine. My parents always wanted to retire to East Texas, my brother wanted to retire to East Texas and none of them got to. They all lived and died in Dallas. So when I got ready to retire, I thought ‘Ok, let me go check out East Texas!’” she said.
In the process of relocating to East Texas, Turner became more familiar with the area, though she had heard of Kilgore as a student.
“Even in high school, I knew of girls who talked about going out for the Rangerettes,” she said.
“You’d see them working all summer and you’d think ‘Why are they doing this?’ They were so excited and I knew one that made it. So when I got to East Texas it was like, what is this Kilgore I’ve heard about? I first started coming over here when I first moved here to use the library. They had a great library for research and anything you wanted to do.
“That’s how I became familiar with the college and when I was ready to catch up on advertising I thought, okay, let me see what Kilgore has to offer.”
Even after she enrolled at KC, Turner had not yet decided to write for The Flare. When a fellow student learned of Turner’s unique marriage, she recommended Turner for the “Face in the Crowd” news feature, which focuses on interesting KC students.
Turner is 24 years older than her husband, Ken. The pair met on IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, an online chat service popular in the ‘90s and early 2000s.
“He was very geeky even then,” Turner joked. “I didn’t know what I was doing and logged on to see what was going on in the world. We met and we knew each other online for about a year and a half and we decided to meet in person. I kept saying, this is a kid. I’m not Mrs. Robinson! What made me fall in love with him was, when we met, we were sitting down talking and he looked at me and said ‘If it’s not going to work out, have the integrity to tell me face-to-face. Don’t go home and write me a ‘Dear John’ email.’ I thought, ‘that’s probably the most mature thing I’ve ever heard any man say!’”
The two moved in together and lived together for about a year before another surprise occurred: she proposed marriage to Ken.
The two were wed in 2001 and have been going strong ever since.
“We’re living proof that God has a sense of humor,” she said with a laugh. “Your soulmate can come in a package you never expected.”
Now, as a member of the Flare team, Turner has helped the newspaper staff overcome technical difficulties and set up a website, she writes for and edits the paper and mentors younger students who are learning their craft.
“The young adults here at Kilgore are so energetic and so excited about learning about media and writing and what news is and how important the free press is. So the first thing I have to do is break that barrier. In each class I go to, the first thing I say is ‘I’m the neat granny you wish you had. Come and talk to me. Please don’t call me ma’am, I’m just another student,’.”
Turner, who had experience building and coding websites from a blog she created, lent her knowledge to the Flare staff and, in return, she’s being brought up to speed on new technology, like Facebook and Instagram.
“I had someone tell me the other day: ‘It was so neat to read in your high school annual that you worked for your high school paper and you were pro-journalism then and that you’ve come full circle and here you are now, at your age, and you’re excited about being involved in a college paper,’” she said.
Turner, who plans to head to UT Tyler for a bachelor’s degree after she picks up her associate’s degree from KC in December, is enjoying every step of her unusual journey.
“It’s been a lot of fun."