US Army, Navy vet opted for college over retirement

Provided photo Non-traditional student. James W. Ratigan earned a degree in theater from SUNY Geneseo on Saturday. He is 71 years old.

GENESEO – James W. Ratigan, a 71-year-old retiree from Friendship, Allegany County, is not one to remain idle. That’s why he returned to college four years ago and on Saturday received a bachelor’s degree in theater from SUNY Geneseo.

Ratigan retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2000 but didn’t find retirement to his liking.

“Staying at home was too confining and not my style,” said Ratigan, a U.S. Army and Navy veteran. “So I decided to go to college.”

Ratigan received his associate’s degree from Genesee Community College in 2001, where the allure of theater got his attention.

The college bug struck again in 2013 when he entered SUNY Geneseo, and at age 71 he received his bachelor’s degree in theater during the college’s commencement May 13.

“It was great being around students younger than me,” said Ratigan. “I became interested in the technical and design side of theatre – set design, lights, sound and costumes. I had learned enough skills over time, such as carpentry, that I was able to pass along tips to my fellow classmates working on theater projects.”

Ratigan gave credit to his adviser, Johnnie Ferrell, associate professor of theater and Steven Stubblefield, associate professor and chair of the department of theater and dance, for giving him the opportunity to work on set design for department productions. Ratigan requires the use of a cane for mobility, and other health issues necessitated his finishing coursework over an extended time period.

Ferrell said Ratigan gave his fellow undergraduates a unique perspective in the classroom.

“Through him, they gained a perspective of the past that their parents and grandparents possibly had never shared or they had only read about concerning our country’s history,” said Ferrell. “His health could have been a good excuse to never finish his degree. James took a long time to earn his degree, and he achieved it through his drive and determination while raising and supporting his family. I applaud him for his achievement.”

Ratigan’s experience in Geneseo’s theater program already has him contemplating the future. He said he’s thinking about a business venture related to theater prop production. He also is thinking about starting a children’s theater program in Allegany County.

He gave credit to his family members for helping him reach his goal, especially his wife, Marge, who joined him at commencement.

“We got him through!” she said.

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