At 17 years old, Terry Bussard graduated from Oil City High School. The year was 1962.
At the insistence of his mother, he applied to Clarion University to pursue a bachelor of science in history degree. Bussard admits he was not a strong student, but he was admitted to Clarion University’s Venango Campus in Oil City. “Although I should have been studying, I majored in playing 500 and ping pong,” he said.
Terry’s educational path was not to be a direct one.
He sat out for a semester and worked at the Oil City glass plant before being drafted to the Army, serving six years in the reserves. In the Army, Bussard was a petroleum lab specialist, responsible for testing aviation fuels, motor oils, etc. While completing his service to his country, he returned to Oil City and was readmitted to college. The year was 1967, and Clarion University was celebrating its centennial.
He commuted to the Clarion campus, and, with only about a year to finish his degree, a lab position at Oil Well Supply opened.
“The offer was made with a great wage attached, and I could not turn it down,” Bussard said. “I spent 26 years at Oil Well Supply and worked my way up the ladder into management.”
Bussard was with the company during its descent from 1,100 employees to 38 as the industry left the area. He was one of the last foremen left. When the plant closed, he retired. Restless, he returned to work at a small fabrication shop, retiring again at age 54.
Challenges loomed for Bussard. He was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 59 and had to have part of his lung removed. Despite the health setback, he embraced life and looked forward to checking off items from his bucket list. He has been an active member of Community Playhouse for 37 years, and he boasts more than 6,300 geocaching finds. He started playing Pokemon Go in July 2016 and had over five million points at level 34 at the end of 2016. He set a goal to walk his first 5K and accomplished the feat at the 2016 Oil City Turkey Trot. He was 71.
There was one particular item on his bucket list, however, that weighed on him: He never finished the degree that his mother, who had passed away, had encouraged him to complete.
Bussard approached the university about completing a degree. After meeting with an academic advisor, he learned how close he was. Three credits were all he needed to complete an associate degree. Summoning his courage, he enrolled in December to complete a five-week winter session class, MATH 112.
“It has taken me 50 years to get a degree, but I did it,” Bussard said. “My advice to others is that education takes all forms, and it is never too late.”
In January, Bussard celebrated his 72nd birthday. Three days later, he and wife Mary Jane, with whom he has three children and six grandchildren, celebrated 51 years of marriage. He will celebrate his 50-year pursuit of higher education when he accepts his long-awaited degree at May commencement.
With a life that still needs living, Bussard continues to add items to his bucket list, and he continues to check them off. Next up: zip lining and a cruise with his sister.