The 81-Year Degree Plan: BBA Degree Awarded to Oldest Recipient in Baylor's History

  • News Photo 3899
    Dr. Glenn Hilburn presented M.L. "Hub" Northen with his official Baylor degree on Dec. 3 in Shreveport, La.
  • News Photo 3900
    M.L. "Hub" Northen
Dec. 4, 2006

by Cynthia Jackson, Hankamer School of Business, (254) 710-7628

M.L. "Hub" Northen enrolled at Baylor University in 1925. Eighty-one years later, he now has his Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA). At 100 years old, the Shreveport, La., resident is the oldest person ever to obtain a degree from Baylor.

Coming to Baylor with $100 in his pocket that his parents had managed to save, he paid his tuition by cleaning Brooks Hall for 25 cents per hour. He lit the fire each day at 3:30 a.m., so students could take their morning baths. This added an extra 35 cents to his daily pay.

Hub Northen left school in 1929, one of many victims of the Great Depression. With one more class left to complete - chemistry - he had to quit school and begin working to contribute to his family's survival.

Northen never claimed to be a Baylor graduate, although it has always been apparent from his tireless work organizing Baylor alumni and supporting Baylor sports recruiting efforts that he was loyal to the school he had once attended.

This is why a discovery made by Northen's family, was so surprising. In 2004, Hub and his wife, Annie Lee (Hennigan), had decided to move to a full-time care facility. The family was helping sort through household items to prepare the house for sale. That's when Northen's daughter, Jean Northen (who also attended Baylor), his son, Gary Northen, and his grandson Gary Northen Jr., saw something very curious - a group of papers rolled up and stored away. When they pulled them out and started going through them, there was a beautiful certificate of degree from Baylor University.

"It was the biggest shock to all of us to find in a bunch of rolled up documents, a 1929 diploma of graduation for Marvin Lafayette Northen," said the grandson.

When Gary Jr. asked his grandfather about the diploma, he learned that it had been mailed by mistake.

"He then told me that he was one class short of the graduation requirements. A single chemistry class," Gary Jr. said. "Although apparently an error on the part of the records department, since he did not attend graduation at the end of the quarter, the diploma was mailed to him at his home in Holland, Texas."

Records were not automated in 1929.

When Hub received it, he didn't have enough money for postage to send it back. Somehow, it was saved and now had been found.

The younger Northen made some inquiries at Baylor, which resulted in the official BBA degree being presented to Hub Northen during Sunday morning services at Trinity Heights Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 3. The ceremony was a surprise to his grandfather and to the rest of the Northen family.

"...I understand... that you have held on to a signed diploma proclaiming your degree from Baylor University," wrote Dr. David E. Pennington, interim chair and professor of chemistry in a letter to Hub. "But because of your honesty you never claimed to have earned that degree because you lacked a single chemistry course, Chemistry 101. Therefore, it is my genuine pleasure to inform you that because of your honesty and eighty-one years of experience in the interim, you are hereby granted credit for Chemistry 101, fulfilling the last of your formal degree requirements for that BBA degree and legitimizing your status as a genuine graduate of Baylor University."

"You have served your profession and your University well over these past many years," wrote Dr. Terry Maness, dean of Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, in a congratulatory message. "From humble beginnings as a student who worked for four years cleaning Brooks Hall and stoking the fire in the boiler so those more fortunate could take hot baths, to serving your community as Superintendent for the Bossier City Post Office Station, to acting as the 'hub' for so many spokes of countless Baylor connections you are to be commended. You have led a lifetime of service to your community and a lifetime of commitment to Baylor University."

Many letters have poured in from old friends, Baylor supporters, Baylor officials and virtually every Baylor athletic coach, including the legendary Grant Teaff.

"There are supporters and then there are people like Hub Northen," penned Teaff. "The kind of person who thinks every recruiting class is the best one ever recruited and that every team, even if they stumble a little along the way, is the best team Baylor ever had."

Toby Druin, editor emeritus of The Baptist Standard, also sent a letter of congratulations.

"Every conversation we have had has given me a deeper appreciation for the university and for your love of the school and the days you spent there and the esteem you have for it today," he wrote. "I am sure that no one bleeds more green and gold than M.L. Northen."

Baylor President Emeritus Hebert H. Reynolds wrote, "You are undoubtedly the most senior person to ever receive a Baylor degree after having diligently pursued this goal for the past eighty years!

"You have been one of Baylor's finest stalwarts since the day you stepped on the campus in the 1920s," added Reynolds, "and all of us who have known you through the years have the utmost respect for you as a person, as well as a son of Baylor who has never wavered in your love and support of your beloved alma mater."

Hub Northen celebrated his 100th birthday in November 2006. His name will be listed along with the other December 2006 graduates in Baylor University's Commencement Program during ceremonies at the end of this semester.

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