Alumnus, now 79, re-enrolls in college

Credit: Thomas Hofman/Assistant Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Assistant Photo Editor

Charles Mastervich is studying humanities at Mount Aloysius College. Having contacted the institution’s admissions office, he recently enrolled as a transfer student. The university allowed Mastervich to receive transfer credits on the basis of his previous educational history at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and Carnegie Mellon University. However, Mastervich, unlike any ordinary transfer student, turns 80 years old this November.

After graduating from Johnstown High School in 1948, Mastervich committed to playing professional baseball in a now-defunct league. In a disappointing turn of events, though, the league collapsed while Mastervich was still on spring break in Arkansas. He was not even afforded the opportunity to play one game. He decided then to work at the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat and was involved in presswork to make ends meet. Mastervich had a long career at the Tribune and held various positions until his retirement in 1989. He did, however, take time off from the newspaper from 1952 to 1955 in order to serve the army during the Korean War. He subsequently attended university on the G.I. Bill on a part-time basis from 1955 to 1958 and was able to concurrently continue his job at the newspaper. Mastervich studied business at the University of Pittsburgh before enrolling at Carnegie Mellon (known as Carnegie Tech in those days) to study printing management. Unfortunately, he had to focus his attention on his work to support his family and was unable to complete the program.

In an interview with Altoona Mirror reporter Scott Muska, Mastervich explained that a combination of factors led him to reach his decision to return to school now. Above all, he describes the decision as something of a “task completion.” “It was for me,” Mastervich said. “My wife passed away six years ago, and I’m in my 22nd year of retirement, so I asked myself ‘What does one do?’ ” A thoughtful man, Mastervich went on to say he’d often wondered what he would have done if he had been able to graduate from college.

“Basically, I just walked him through the enrollment and scheduling process just like I would any other transfer student coming in who already had a lot of credits,” said Heather Low, the Mount Aloysius associate director of admissions, in an interview with Altoona Mirror. Low works with Mastervich as his advisor and will continue to do so until Mastervich graduates in May 2011. “It has been a real delight to work with him, because he appreciates what he’s going through so much and he has a very different perspective than most students,” Low said. “He’s not going to school for some sort of career obligation, but specifically for the love of learning.”

Muska met and talked to Mastervich and relayed the experience to The Tartan. “He is a pretty nice smart guy and he’s really with it for being almost 80 years old. He liked to talk a lot. We talked about how respectful people were to him and how surprised he was about it,” Muska said. “His teachers all mentioned that he does every little bit of work assigned. His history teacher also said that class is interesting because Charlie was alive during a lot of the periods the class is studying and offers unique insights.”

“I have a lot of time to get my work done, and I really admire the younger students’ time-management skills, because they have to be acute,” said Mastervich, who commutes to school from a senior center in Johnstown, in the same interview with Muska.

When he began classes last spring, Mastervich didn’t expect to last two weeks. Since then, he has started to appreciate and enjoy the college experience in a way he thinks many of his peers don’t. He especially appreciates the small classes Mount Aloysius offers. “The youngsters don’t always realize what they have here, that it’s a gem,” Mastervich said. “I’ve been in classes with hundreds of students where you’re basically just a number, and that never happens here.”

“Just wow. [His story] makes you appreciate learning and makes me feel like I should value the experience more,” said Aderin Akintilo, a sophomore information systems major. “It’s such a remarkable and inspirational story. It would make a great script for a film.”

“The people always ask me why I do this, and my response is always, ‘Why not?’ ” Mastervich said. “I’ve always been an active person, and I really enjoy this, and the more I get involved the more I want to do.”