Can asking yourself a simple question result in a brighter future?
When Golden DeAngelo was in his mid-40s —midcareer for most people — he would pass University of Wisconsin-Stout every day on his way to work and wonder, “Could I go to school there someday?”
The Navy veteran was a full-time production supervisor at Cady Cheese factory near Spring Valley and hadn’t been in the classroom for a quarter-century. So, although it was a simple question it was complicated.
One question begat another: How would he go to school full time and continue to work full time in order to pay for it? Could he even get accepted at UW-Stout? Could he handle the stress, academics and stick it out with classmates young enough to be his children? Would it be worth the effort in the end?
On Dec. 14, at a commencement day reception for 750 UW-Stout graduates, DeAngelo stood tall with diploma in hand knowing that all of the questions had been answered. “It’s about like a dream,” he said, realizing that at age 50 he finally was a college graduate with a Bachelor of Science in business administration.
The dream is about to get even better. DeAngelo has been accepted into UW-Stout’s Graduate School and is beginning the Master of Science in risk control program.
He’s on the final leg of his seven-year plan to build a better life through education, a quest that in some ways goes back to his childhood and, as an African-American, hundreds of years.
“My mother always told me to get an education. Nobody can take that away from you,” he said. “She told me people have died so I could get an education. That always stuck with me.”
Chicago, Mississippi, Menomonie
When he graduated, DeAngelo thought about his unstable childhood on the south side of Chicago, at 63rd Street and Vernon, with the elevated train — El — rumbling overhead. “If I could tell those people I have a college degree, they probably wouldn’t believe it,” he said.
DeAngelo had a strained relationship with his father, a neighborhood bookie, citing physical and verbal abuse while he was growing up. “I didn’t have a lot to look up to or look forward to,” he said.
After high school, he lived with a grandmother in Mississippi and began junior college. He played baseball and had dreams of a pro career before joining the Navy, serving eight years active and 12 years in the reserve.
After working in the paint and decorating business in the Chicago area, including starting his own business, he came to Menomonie with a friend, fell in love with the area and decided to stay.
He realized his career was limited without a college degree. “From a minority standpoint, moving up without education is more difficult,” he said.
DeAngelo decided to stop at UW-Stout one day in 2015 and see if there was a reasonable answer to his nagging question. He met with Linda Young, associate director of transfer and articulation in Admissions, and she gave him hope.
Young advised him to ease back into the classroom and work on an associate degree in business administration at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. He graduated from CVTC in 2018 and, with Young’s guidance, was prepared for UW-Stout.
“He communicated with me pretty much every semester after that either by email, phone or another face-to-face meeting to make sure what he enrolled in at CVTC would transfer and apply to his degree program,” Young said.
UW-Stout has 146 articulation agreements with schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, with more being developed. Learn more about transferring to UW-Stout.
“His enthusiasm and dedication to completing his bachelor’s degree was evident from the first meeting. He had a goal in mind and would not be deterred from it,” Young said.
Some CVTC and UW-Stout courses were out of his comfort zone, and he sought one-on-one help from professors and tutors.
“When I was accepted at Stout, I knew it was my last chance to go back to school and I had to make the most of it,” he said. “I found the resources to help. I’d meet with professors a lot, and they’d explain it to me until I got it.”
In order to take classes during the day, he began a new job at Andersen Corp. in the crating department in Menomonie, first the 3 to 11 p.m. shift then the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
Work all night, straight to classes all day, catch some sleep and do it again. He would study all weekend to catch up, but he also worked Saturdays — 50-hour weeks — for most of one year.
He walked into one class, realized quickly he wasn’t prepared for the curriculum then re-enrolled later — after getting the book and tutoring in advance so that he was ready.
“It takes a profound commitment to get up and go to class every day. I was there for a purpose, and nobody was going to stop me from achieving that purpose,” DeAngelo said.
“I’ve done it with prayer, ambition and hard work.”
A brighter future realized
DeAngelo already is realizing the value of a college degree. He has been drawing interest from employers about jobs in management — something that never happened previously. “It’s opening doors,” he said.
He’s trying to balance the options with his commitment to earning his master’s and becoming “an expert in risk control,” he said.
He continues to work at Andersen, at its facility on the north side of Interstate 94. He thanked the company for partially reimbursing his tuition expenses.
“I’m happy to see that he accomplished his goal,” Young said. “He will do well wherever he decides to go from here.”
DeAngelo and his wife have bought a house near UW-Stout, close enough so he can walk to his master’s classes.
The university that he used to drive by and that seemed so far away is right across the street. It has become his new vehicle to a better life.