Blythe Ogle walked out of a troubled marriage three years ago and ended up on welfare.
Rather than let public assistance become a dead-end road, Ogle took advantage of the system to get a college degree.
She could hardly contain her smile Tuesday. Ogle, a 32-year-old mother of four, graduated from Spokane Community College with an associate degree in applied science.
She plans to become an administrative secretary as soon as she can land a job.
“Now, I catch myself looking back, and I see how far I’ve come,” Ogle said.
She is one of 2,523 students earning degrees this week from Spokane’s community colleges. Tuesday’s commencement was the first in a series of ceremonies through Friday.
For Ogle, the three years it took to finish college weren’t easy. Besides the demands of raising a family, Ogle commuted to Spokane every day from her home in Newport, Wash., a 90-mile round trip.
“I would literally die in the chair every night,” she said, and then she would get up by 5:30 a.m. so she could study without interruption.
She logged some 65,000 miles on her car, burning nearly $2,700 worth of gasoline.
But the three hours she spent driving every day were worth it, she said. She wants her children to grow up in a small town with strong traditional values and safety from crime.
“I didn’t have to take the initiative to drive every day,” she said. “I could sit there and do nothing and get my check every month, but the opportunity was there.”
Ogle had married a week before she graduated from high school in Helena in 1980. Economic recession made it tough to earn enough money to raise a family, so the family moved to Newport.
After her marriage fell apart, Ogle was invited by her caseworker to attend a career planning seminar. There, she learned to apply for educational grants and was told that welfare would help her with day care and transportation costs through a jobs program.
Her regular welfare grant pays $700 a month. She also receives food stamps. Educational grants paid for tuition and books.
In college, she took a program to learn the skills of an office information specialist. She is qualified to become an administrative secretary, and she is willing, if necessary, to commute to Spokane for a job.
The job market appears to be pretty good, although some companies pay less than $10 an hour, she said. She already has been invited to one interview.
Ogle concentrated on computer skills and knows enough about software to teach future co-workers how to improve their computer skills.
“Anyone who doesn’t have computer skills is at a disadvantage,” she said.
Ogle’s parents and five brothers and sisters live in the region. Family members are close, and Ogle said she owes a lot to them for their moral support.
On Tuesday, she dressed up her four children - the youngest is 4; the oldest is 13 - and brought them to the city to share in her success because they are a big part of it.
“We’ve banded together as a family,” said her mother, Marcille Nay.
“This system so many people have bad things to say about, I am here to say, it worked.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo