John Lennon wrote in his 1980 song Beautiful Boy, that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” For Amy Heflinger ’18, the “life” that was happening was working full-time as a housekeeper at UF, and the “other plans” were graduating from UF with a bachelor of science in health and physical education.
Originally from Norwalk, Ohio, Heflinger came to the Findlay area around 30 years ago, first working at Blanchard Valley Hospital for a number of years, and then, after beginning to have and raise children with her husband, Craig, doing medical transcription from home. This lasted for some 20 years, allowing for Heflinger to successfully bring up three girls, Katelin, Jasmine and Corrine, now grown and onto their own lives. About seven years ago, however, things changed when she was downsized in favor of a more digitized and modern way of transcription.
Unsure of what to do next, Heflinger was encouraged by friends and family to apply at UF. Initially, she applied for an office position, but when that didn’t pan out, she decided to “get her foot in the door” by working in housekeeping. Her foot has now been in the door for seven years this June. “I like it,” she said. “I like being active and the hours are good. It is a bit tough getting up at three in the morning, but I’ve gotten used to it.”
As if getting up in the wee hours of the morning to work an eight-hour day wasn’t daunting enough, Heflinger decided to pursue a degree. “My youngest daughter was a senior in high school when I started here,” she said. “Then she enrolled at UF for her freshman year. She said to me ‘you may as well take classes like I am,’ and I thought that it would make the job even more worthwhile.” She already had earned an associate’s degree in applied science from another school, and, since almost 60 credits were set to transfer, it seemed like a great opportunity.
She generally took two classes per semester, and, while a few of the employees in her area were taking classes online, she found herself in the classroom amongst students much younger. That, however, just made her more determined. “It was a little intimidating to be among the students in class and especially labs,” she confessed. “I’m not as quick-thinking as the younger kids. But they were, and are, very respectful and helpful toward me in and out of the classroom, as a student and as a housekeeper.”
For five years, Heflinger took as many classes as possible, even over the summer, and simply worked through any doubts that popped up, even though there were plenty of times where it wasn’t clear whether she could pull it off. She would get up for her shift starting at four in the morning, flex her time a bit to clock out for classes, make up some hours in the afternoon and go home after her shift and do homework. “There were certainly points where I wasn’t sure if I could keep it up,” she said. “My husband is retired, which made it harder to go home and study every night. But I don’t like to quit something once I’ve started.” Along with her family, she had the encouragement of her workmates to keep her going, even though the classes kept her from seeing them as much as she normally would. Often, she would miss out on morning breaks due to class or use breaks for studying, and since the staff has separate assignments, she was frequently on her own. Still, she said, she’s among some thirty-plus people in housekeeping, and they are like a “small family” to her. “They were encouraging for sure,” she said.
On May 5th, all of the encouragement was realized as Heflinger graduated from the University of Findlay summa cum laude. And along with the traditional regalia in the form of a cap and gown, she had another important adornment—her philanthropy cord. Heflinger said that the community service and additional philanthropy that earned her the cord was “just her way of giving back” and something she was used to from raising her kids. “I’ve always volunteered,” she said. “Sports, music, youth groups. It helps out and makes you feel good.”
After a surprise party attended by her siblings and other close family, Heflinger had a chance to ponder what might come next for her. She applied for an administrative assistant position on campus, and said that, no matter the outcome of that, she’d like to stay on campus for a few different reasons, chiefly her family’s and others’ successes. “My daughter started in the online MBA program here, so that’s one reason,” she said. “I love the people here, too, though. I’ve succeeded in obtaining my degree and now I want to take the next step and pay it forward, in a sense, and be part of someone else’s journey to success. It’s a good feeling.”
When asked how she might encourage other potential “non-traditional” students, she cited family as an example again. “One of my daughters works with folks in jobs and family services and uses me as an example all the time,” she said, proudly. “Don’t give up on your plans. It’s never too late.”