Like many of his generation, Bill Habschied was drafted shortly after graduating from high school. After serving more than four years in the Air Force (“I spent four years, three months and 15 days in service. I don’t know why that stays in your head,”he says), he got a job at a local factory. The job provided him a good living, but the production line shiftwork he did was “very monotonous,” and taught him an important life lesson: you have to like what you do. So, after taking an early retirement, he decided to follow his love of books into the study of library science. Now, he’s ﬁnishing his bachelor’s degree at Niagara and planning to go on to graduate school.
It’s not his ﬁrst time in a college classroom. Bill had taken a number of computer courses while working at the factory and completed his associate’s degree at Niagara County Community College a few years ago. But when he was faced with the decision of what he wanted to do with his education, he realized he needed to continue his studies and enrolled at Niagara.
There, he learned that while his ﬁeld of choice was not available as an undergraduate major, he could take liberal arts and work with faculty to develop an individualized, interdisciplinary program suited speciﬁcally for his interests and career goals. His main focus has been history,supplemented with courses in political science, social sciences, and photography.
Being a nontraditional student was a little uncomfortable at ﬁrst, but Bill soon discovered a group of his peers in the university’s newly established veteran’s club. The group meets once a month to share experiences, and this camaraderie has helped Bill, and other nontraditional students, ease into college life.
He also discovered that his life experience was an unexpected advantage in one of his history classes: America and the Contemporary World,a course that examines developments affecting America and Americans during the turbulent years since World War II. Having lived through those decades, Bill says the class was “like Old Home Week.”
To complement his classroom studies, Bill has taken advantage of opportunities to work in the Castellani Art Museum, where he helped to establish a small library, and in the Marian Library, to which he personally donated thousands of books for a book sale. He laughswhen asked where the books came from.
“You know how you always ﬁb to yourself when you want to buy something?” he asks. “I always said if I buy this book, I’m going to put it in my library and then I’ll have it when I retire. So that’s what I did. But the more I collected, (the more) they overgrew my shelves. So then I put them in chairs, put them on top of this, put them on top of that.”
When he heard about the library’s book sale, he decided to donate most of his collection. “So my house is now back to normal and I have the library back down, and I’m thinking of getting a Kindle,” he says.
This December, Bill will graduate with his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, and he hopes to attend graduate school. He’s not planning too much further ahead than that, though. “I found out that what you hope to do and what you wind up doing are two different things,” he says. “I’m taking it now just one step at a time.”