For the past 70 years, anytime Bob Blum had to fill out a job application he was reminded that hadn't earned his college degree.
As the son of a mother who had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Nebraska, the reminder weighed on him. Yet as the years went on, he still did not feel ready for college.
That was until the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic was a time for many to take a break from the daily stresses of life, for 94-year-old Blum it was the right moment to earn his bachelor’s degree.
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After more than a year of intense one-month courses and finals at Keiser University, Blum will be graduating today at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples resort at 6 p.m. with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He was asked by Campus President Lynda Waterhouse to speak at the ceremony.
“I never thought that would ever happen ever in my life. I mean sitting in the audience is one thing, but being up there on the stage. I just consider it an honor,” said Blum, who lives in Naples.
During the ceremony, Waterhouse will announce that the school's nursing lab will be named the Robert H. And Connie Blum nursing lab. The naming of the lab is a result of Blum and his wife Connie's efforts to aid nursing students.
Over a year ago, when Blum stayed at a Physicians Regional Medical Center, he bonded with his nurse who was a Keiser University student. Blum noticed the nurses were very overworked and wanted to do something to help.
After his visit, Blum and Connie created the Robert H. and Connie Blum Endowment Fund and the Robert H. and Connie Blum Scholarship for Dedicated Future Nurses.
Blum also goes to Publix every month to buy 30 boxes of fried chicken dinners to give to the sanitation workers at the medical center. He feels they deserve some recognition for all their hard work.
When Blum graduated from the Fishburne Military School and then attempted to earn his college degree at the University of Maryland, he was using paper and pencil for all of his assignments. Blum found the transition to computers and technology for his studies very difficult, especially since he was taking all of his courses online.
“I went back to school, and I had one big, huge problem, monstrous problem,” Blum said. “Computers and 94-year-olds, we just don't see eye to eye.”
Connie who is a computer technology teacher to seniors, along with Blum’s daughter Randy Kashi, guided Blum on how to use different computer applications such as Microsoft Word. Kashi, 66, visited him once a week while he was in school.
Despite the technological learning curve, Blum was shocked by how well he understood the content of his high-level business classes. He also loved that the courses were online because he had instructors from all over the country.
“I had a superior court judge from San Diego. I had doctorates from Syracuse University. I had people that Harvard University wouldn't have had any better people than I had,” Blum said.
Blum was delighted to see A's in his grades. He was even awarded May 2021 Student of the Month by Keiser University. When he was younger, the only A's he got were from being marked absent, he said.
Blum grew up in Washington, D.C. during the Great Depression. His family lost their home during that time, and his father passed away when he was 13 years old.
He said everybody had to work. As a child, he sold newspapers on the street. He remembers wearing corduroy knickers, a cap and a shirt tie as he yelled “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Germany goes into Poland!”
When Blum attended the University of Maryland, he didn’t feel ready for college. He wanted to defend the United States in World War II and decided to join the Air Force. Blum didn’t make the cutoff to join the fight in World War II. He ended up working as a radar operator until 1953.
After Blum left the Air Force, he worked as a salesman and began investing. Then in 1960, Blum partnered with a childhood friend and went into the home building business. They started the Blum and Cowen Construction Co., built 300 homes and developed five communities.
Blum’s work ethic and motivation didn’t falter at all as he got older. While earning his degree, he was also helping young people begin investing by handling their portfolios and monitoring Fishburne Military School’s finances.
“I would get maybe three or four hours of sleep at night,” Blum said. “That made me really feel good, both mentally and physically. I forgot my problems. In other words, I was so into what I was doing, that anything outside of that wouldn’t bother me at all.”
Knowing the toll going back to school could take on her father, Kashi felt nervous when she first heard he would be returning to college. She was worried he would get sick or wouldn’t be able to finish; however, she remembered that nothing had stopped him from reaching his goals in the past.
When Blum was around 87 years old, he flew to Columbia on his own to visit his Spanish teacher. He was determined to make the trip and even ended up hiking up a mountain to reach the Spanish teacher’s house.
“He's like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going,” Kashi said.
Blum doesn’t plan on slowing down. While he’d love to earn a master’s degree, he doesn’t feel that it’s sensible at his age. Blum plans on continuing to help those in his life that he cares for whether it be his old military school or future student investors.
Blum also officiated his granddaughter Kelly Fitzgerald’s wedding last November. The 34-year-old always saw Blum as a role model and father figure.
Growing up, she would spend weekends on fishing trips with Blum. As Fitzgerald got older, Blum taught her about financial literacy and helped her form her moral compass.
Fitzgerald wasn’t shocked when she heard her grandfather had returned to college. She was impressed by his motivation to educate and better himself.
“I can't say I was surprised because he's always doing things like this, things that should surprise people or that seemed out of the norm,” Fitzgerald said.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Keiser University's oldest graduate and speaker is 94 years old