Orlon Nordfelt not only learned American history at the University of Utah, he lived it.
"I lived about one-third of the time since the ratification of the Constitution; I've lived about two-thirds of Utah history since the state was admitted to the Union," Nordfelt said. "You would think I would love American history."After four years of a grueling schedule of waking up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus, going to classes, napping, studying and remaining on campus for up to nine hours a day, this 66-year-old graduate will formallly end his seven-year college career when he accepts his bachelor's degree in history Friday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.
However, about 50 years ago historic events that he learned about later in textbooks - such as the invasion of Pearl Harbor - almost stopped him from continuing his education.
In 1942, when Nordfelt graduated from North Sevier High School, Salina, the draft placed him into the Army and Air Force.
"Pearl Harbor was our legacy," Nordfelt said.
By the time 1946 rolled around, Nordfelt had lost his prime four college years and a scholarship to the U. Rather than pursuing a degree in business or music, "I wanted to live now," Nordfelt said.
He married Dessna Ferrell in Salt Lake City and received on-the-job training for work, which lasted 15 years in a mining company as a metalurgical accountant and 25 years with Hercules as a contract administrator. Meanwhile, he and his wife raised a family of six. However, all during this time he wanted to go to college.
"My sweetheart was wiser than myself. She sensed that I wanted to continue college," Nordfelt said.
After years of encouragement from his wife, Nordfelt enrolled in a beginning history night class at the age of 59 and accumulated 54 credits in the next three years as a part-time student.
"She didn't know it, but she opened Pandora's box. An educational theme opened up," Nordfelt said. "But it hasn't been easy."
Nordfelt moved on to day classes as a full-time student, but health problems associated with age also slowed him down, as well as the unexpected death of a close relative, causing his 3.9 grade point average to slip to a 3.81 GPA.
Yet "my sweetheart wouldn't let me quit," said Nordfelt, who is graduating cum laude - in the top 8 percent of his class.
And Nordelt did not quit. Dean May, associate professor of history, told the Deseret News that Nordfelt was one of the few older students "bent on getting a degree. He was one of the hardest-working and committed students I ever had."
Nordfelt not only earned a degree but was also selected into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and one of the most selective national honorary societies. Other awards which show outstanding scholastic achievements are an international history scholarship from Phi Alpha Pheta, the Golden Key award from the Golden Key National Honor Society and acceptance into the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society.
Nordfelt doesn't keep a running tab on his achievements. He simply is grateful for the chance to learn and the people who supported him, financially and emotionally.
"I appreciate Dr. Carroll Gillmore. She gave me advice. My whole family was as supportive as my wife," said Nordfelt, who is a grandfather of 20 and great-grandfather to three.
"I appreciate very much being able to attend the institution of higher learning. I hope I never reach a point where I can't continue to learn."