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For Immediate Release
May 06, 2019

Purdue University Fort Wayne Helps Student Obtain Degree 50 Years after “Taking a Break”

Key Info

  • Lonny A. Fry graduates with B.A. in Sociology
  • Started classes in 1967
  • Enlisted in Marines in 1969
  • Finishes degree in 2019
Purdue University Fort Wayne Helps Student Obtain Degree 50 Years after “Taking a Break” Image 1
Sue Ellen and Lonny Fry Print-quality image

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—Lonny Fry recently celebrated his 70th birthday, knowing that the present he was giving himself started its journey to him 50 years ago.

It was 1969, the Vietnam War was raging, and 20-year-old Elmhurst High School graduate and Fort Wayne native Lonny Fry was midway through his second year as a sociology major at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). Like many other 20-year-olds at the time, he wasn’t sure what he hoped to become.

So, he “temporarily” dropped out of IPFW and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After boot camp and two other training schools, Lonny was assigned to Personnel Administration and was shipped out to Vietnam as a Private First Class with the 2nd Battalion/1st Marines, Headquarters and Service Company.

He was one of the lucky ones and came home to Fort Wayne in 1971, got married, went to work as a manager trainee with Baber Jewelers, and began raising a family.

In 1976, Lonny went back to school full time, while he worked with Citizens for Criminal Justice and his wife, Sue Ellen, worked in the nursing department on the IPFW campus. During his last semester in 1978, just three classes shy of getting his degree in sociology, he accepted a job offer with a department store chain in Dayton, Ohio. According to Lonny, choosing not to complete the requirements to graduate was a tough decision, but “...accepting the ‘bird in the hand’ and moving to Ohio was a great opportunity with a bright future and was the right decision for my family.”

Fast forward to December 2018, when Lonny called Purdue Fort Wayne, asking if and how he could complete his degree.

“I found Professor Shannon Bischoff’s name and number and reached out to him for help,” relates Lonny. “I found out I was 12 hours short of getting a degree, and that’s when a whole team of people jumped in and started to work on a solution.”

That team consisted of Deb Hoile, student records coordinator in the College of Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Hine, associate vice chancellor and registrar, Aimee Gerdes, former associate registrar, and Crystal Milton, a business analyst in Student Information Systems. They worked together to verify Lonny’s old courses and other credits that would fit to satisfy the Sociology program requirements. To add even more hours, Lonny enrolled in a senior-level writing course offered by the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia, where he and his wife now live.

With the addition of the writing course, the team was able to align his previous credits with a catalog that gets him a diploma.

Lonny and Sue Ellen wanted to come to the Commencement ceremony this Wednesday, May 8, but health issues are keeping them at home.

When asked what getting his degree 50 years after taking that “temporary break” means to him, Lonny pointed out the Marine Corps’ motto. ”Semper Fidelis means Always Faithful,” he said. “So, I decided I needed to be faithful to that early quest and to try and get my degree finished. This gives me a lot of joy, a lot of pride.”

Semper Fi, Lonny, Semper Fi.

For additional information, contact Susan Alderman, at 260-481-6165 (office), 260-489-5349 (cell), or