It was Harriet Richardson Ames' dream to earn her bachelor's degree in education. She finally reached that milestone, nearly three weeks after achieving another: her 100th birthday.
On Saturday, the day after receiving her diploma at her bedside, the retired schoolteacher died, pleased that she had accomplished her goal, her daughter said. Ames had been in hospice care.
"She had what I call a 'bucket list,' and that was the last thing on it," Marjorie Carpenter said Tuesday.
Ames, who turned 100 on Jan. 2, had earned a two-year teaching certificate in 1931 at Keene Normal School, now Keene State College. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in South Newbury, and later spent 20 years as a teaching principal at Memorial School in Pittsfield, where she taught first-graders.
Through the years, she had taken classes at the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth Teachers College and Keene State to earn credits for her degree. With her eyesight failing, she stopped after retiring in 1971 and was never sure if she had enough credits.
Her wish for a degree became known when a Keene State film professor interviewed her a couple of years ago for a piece on the college's own centennial, which the school celebrated last year.
‘I know I'll die happy’
The school decided to research her coursework and see if it could award Ames her long-sought diploma. The offices of the provost, registrar and other departments worked quickly in the last month to determine, that indeed, it could.
"She wanted to be the best that she could be," said Norma Walker, coordinator of the Keene State College Golden Circle Society, an alumni group for classes that graduated 50 or more years ago.
Walker said when she mentioned to Ames during a recent visit that the college was working on the degree, Ames started to cry and said, "'If I die tomorrow, I'll know I'll die happy, because my degree's in the works.'"
College officials, including Walker, drove the document to Ames' bedside on Friday.
Walker, who first met Ames in 1997 at an alumni gathering, said she enjoyed listening to her talk about her students and how she encouraged them to read.
"She's the kind of person that every parent would want their first-graders to have as a teacher," very loving and caring, Walker said. She will read Ames' diploma at a memorial service this Saturday, "if I can do it without crying."
Paula Finnegan Dickinson of Gilford, who was Ames' student back in 1956 and became an educator herself, regarded her as a mentor and dear friend.
"Mrs. Ames, along with Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot and Puff, became our friend," Dickinson said, recalling the "Dick and Jane" series that was used in class reading groups. "With her enthusiasm, these characters came to life. ... Mrs. Ames showed us how reading opened the doors to other experiences we in Pittsfield might never have known."