High Expectations, No Excuses

Posted by Janae Melvin on June 28, 2017 in Marlene Gabaldon did just what was expected of her. She finished high school in 1955, got married a year later and began a family shortly after that.

“In those days, that’s what was expected,” says Gabaldon. “Only a few women worked outside the home in ‘acceptable’ jobs for females - teacher, secretary, waitress.” She realized her interactions with professional friends were lacking. “They were not excluding me on purpose,” she says, “but they knew things I did not know and I realized I wanted to learn.” After her youngest child went to school, Gabaldon went to college. She was 36.

While Gabaldon thrived in a school environment and found the classes to be just what she’d been missing, both she and her husband suffered with alcohol dependence. “I went from a 3.5 GPA to a 2.3,” says Gabaldon. “I drank myself out of school just three semesters later. I ended up in rehab instead of college.”

Obviously, rehabilitation was not part of Gabaldon’s plan but while in treatment, she discovered her calling. “I realized while sitting there as a patient that I wanted to be in social work.” When she got out, she was ready for a new life but her husband was not. He continued to drink and they separated. During the next several years, Gabaldon worked as a detox nurse’s assistant and counselor while acquiring an impressive number of certifications in social work-related areas. She sat on her kids’ school board and created a drug prevention program for the district. She was involved and successful, but she did not have that degree and she wanted it.

“I visited a girlfriend in Peoria,” says Gabaldon. “I stayed for a week and fell in love with the state. That was in July. By mid-August, I had moved to Arizona to start over.” She arrived with just the possessions her car could hold and money for one month’s rent. She waitressed to pay the bills and began attending Glendale Community College. Even after she blew out her knee (and had surgery), she continued to study. She spent years as a certified substance abuse counselor. She served as her apartment complex’s manager. During this time she also married her second husband, Patricio Gabaldon. The couple had 16 happy years together before his second heart attack took Pat from Marlene.

“Pat always encouraged me in every one of my pursuits,” says Gabaldon. “We were just as happy for his GED acquired at age 40, as we were for my continuing education. He was my greatest supporter.”

At OUAZ, Gabaldon is a familiar, well-loved fixture. Every day she arrives on campus to use the same computer terminal. She and Tammy Reed, Campus Support Specialist, joke that it is Gabaldon’s office since she uses it so often.

Diving into online courses and keeping up with homework isn’t easy for anyone but for a 79 year-old, extra challenges abound. Gabaldon admits she is slower than she used to be and the technological aspect of education is often difficult. She’s had help along the way most especially from her first academic advisor, Briana Prothero.  

“I can’t talk about her without getting choked up,” says Gabaldon. “I’m technology-challenged. My computer is so old, it’s like a flip phone. Briana was right there beside me the whole time. If it weren’t for her, I probably would not have made it through the first several weeks.”
Conquering the tech side of things isn’t Gabaldon’s only challenge. She strives
to achieve excellent grades and when statistics reared its ugly head, Gabaldon felt the pressure.

“Statistics nearly got me,” says Gabaldon. “Seven and a half weeks in, I finally got it. I earned a B. It was not going to defeat me. Professor Fredstrom is a great man and he put up with a lot from me.” Her teacher, Zach Fredstrom, tells the story a bit differently.

“Marlene brought an incredible spirit of courage to myself and the class. She would constantly challenge the ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ adage. She was persistent and worked incredibly hard the whole term. Despite the very difficult material, Marlene grinded through the class with persistence and sense of humor, even at nearly 80 years-old.”

“There is no excuse. Your past mistakes are not an excuse. Substance abuse is not an excuse. Age is not an excuse,” says Gabaldon. “Anyone can do this. The only time there’s an excuse is when you’re on the wrong side of the daisy patch. You can do it.”

Maybe Gabaldon doesn’t do quite what is expected of her after all.