Bethel Park man to receive degree from Pitt he earned 64 years ago
John C. Downs was among the first wave of World War II vets to tap the GI Bill when he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh in 1946.
Now 90, the Bethel Park man will collect a degree in history at Pitt commencement ceremonies on April 27 — 64 years after he earned it.
The tall, slim grandfather of 21, who sports a shock of wavy, white hair, said he always thought he should have received a degree. After all, he attended classes at Pitt for four years and felt certain he had completed his course requirements.
Somehow, a letter from the university advising him he was eligible to graduate in 1950 went unnoticed.
“I quite often thought, ‘John, I think you earned your degree,' but I never decided to find out whether I did,” he said.
Then life intervened.
He went to work, met and married JoAnne DuScheid, and they had five daughters. He held a variety of sales jobs before retiring, but always maintained a keen interest in history.
As Downs' 90th birthday approached this spring, daughters Dianne Lynch and Denise Edgar began sorting through his memorabilia to assemble a scrapbook for the big day. Lynch said that's when they discovered their father's college transcripts.
“If there is a moral to this story, it's keep your stuff. I think Dad kept more of his things than Mom did,” Lynch said.
“We got in touch with one of Pitt's vice chancellors. He looked over the transcripts and said Dad had what it took to graduate in 1950. Since then, Pitt has been just unbelievable,” she said.
“I am delighted that the academic record of John Downs was brought to my attention and that it meets the requirements for a Pitt bachelor of arts degree in history. I wish him heartfelt congratulations on graduating from the Dietrich School,” said N. John Cooper, dean of Pitt's Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.
Downs framed a letter from Cooper stating that Pitt would be honored to award him his degree with the Class of 2014.
Last week, university officials honored Downs with a special luncheon at the University Club. They presented him with a basket of Pitt memorabilia and gave him an early peek at his diploma.
“They told me I'd be the first graduate of the Class of 2014,” he said, as his wife and daughters helped him try on his cap and gown.
For Downs, who grew up in Wilkinsburg and graduated from Central Catholic High School in Oakland, Pitt seemed a dream beyond reach when his father died when he was 16. After high school, he was drafted and ended up in the Army Air Corps as a radar mechanic. He served in the Pacific during World War II and in occupied Japan.
Downs came back to Pittsburgh and landed a job in a small manufacturing plant in Homewood with a longtime friend, Jim Kelly. When Kelly, a fellow vet, suggested they tap the GI bill to try college life, Downs was more than ready.
“I had dreams of college, but I never thought I'd get to go. The GI bill helped millions of people. It was a good thing,” Downs said.
Pitt officials gave their oldest undergraduate enough tickets to accommodate his children and grandchildren for the commencement ceremony. Nearly three dozen of them will be at Petersen Events Center on April 27 to see him march across the stage in cap and gown, festooned with honor cords.
“My son, who is a freshman at Pitt, is planning to wear Dad's cap and gown when he graduates,” Lynch said.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Brentwood police chief to get nearly $200,000 as part of settlement agreement with borough
- Fire at a Robert Morris University dormitory hall will displace 10 students
- Attorneys say Leon Ford putting off needed surgery because of prospect of second trial
- U.S. Steel to relocate corporate headquarters on former Civic Arena site
- State leaders give input on budget woes at Pittsburgh meeting
- Coaches lead discussions to influence athletes’ attitudes toward women, avoiding violence
- Judges with Pittsburgh ties enter race for Pa. Supreme Court
- Allegheny County police investigate out-of-state company that hired worker charged in fatal accident
- Allegheny County officials to continue shuttle service in airport corridor, Mon Valley
- Newsmaker: Dr. Lewis Kuller
- Allegheny County will stop asking about employees’ criminal history, Fitzgerald says