A degree 50 years in the making

Owen Dykshorn and Charlie Dykshorn standing next to each other in front of a brick wall.
Owen Dykshorn, left, will graduate from Iowa State University this semester with a degree in agricultural studies at the same time as his grandson, Charlie Dykshorn, who will receive a degree in marketing.

Grandfather to receive diploma alongside grandson at Iowa State this spring

By Whitney Baxter

More than 50 years after he started his degree program, Owen Dykshorn will check graduating from college off of his list – and he will do so alongside his grandson, Charlie.

Dykshorn has spent the past several months finishing his agricultural studies degree, a continuation of the farm operation degree he started in the 1960s.

The beginnings of a degree program

After graduating from Sioux Center High School in Sioux Center, Iowa, in 1963, Dykshorn began working on the family farm. He enrolled in Iowa State College’s winter quarter program in late 1963, which used to be offered during farming’s off-season (between fall harvest and spring planting) to make it easier for farmers to attend. He liked his experience on campus so much that he returned to Ames the following fall to work toward a farm operation degree.

In February 1968 – his senior year of college – Dykshorn joined the National Guard. After spending a year training in Colorado, he was called to serve in the Vietnam War from July through December 1969.

Upon returning from Vietnam, Dykshorn married his wife, Lynn, and decided to start farming rather than return to Iowa State.

A Cyclone family

The Dykshorns are a Cyclone family. Owen Dykshorn’s brother, Eldon Dykshorn, graduated from Iowa State in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism (science and technical). Two of Dykshorn’s nieces and two of his nephews are also Iowa State graduates.

Despite not returning to Iowa State himself, Dykshorn continued to support the university by attending various sporting events over the years with his family.

Their shared Cyclone passion led grandson Charlie Dykshorn to enroll at Iowa State and pursue a marketing degree.

“I felt like it was a good fit, and there are a lot of good people on campus,” Charlie Dykshorn said of his decision to attend Iowa State. “People here really want the best for you, and you can tell they’re invested in helping you succeed.”

His grandfather experienced that willingness to help last fall when he decided to work toward his Iowa State alumnus status.

Finishing what he started

An interaction last fall with a fellow Bible study member inspired Owen Dykshorn to finish his degree.

The Bible study member had said she was going to college, something she had never done before. That got Dykshorn thinking about his degree program and the potential for completing what he had started years ago.

He contacted Iowa State’s Department of Agricultural Education and Studies and talked to Ben Chamberlain, agricultural education and studies departmental coordinator of advising, to see what he had left.

“I was excited to hear from Owen and of his interest in completing his degree,” Chamberlain said. “I was impressed with the coursework he had already completed and was pleased that we were able to match just about everything with our current curriculum.”

After digging through the written records files, it was discovered Dykshorn did not have far to go.

“We were shocked that he was only seven credits away from getting his degree,” Lynn Dykshorn said.

Before he said “yes” to returning to college, Dykshorn wanted to be sure his grandson was OK with the two of them sharing the spotlight come graduation time.

“My parents told me he was thinking of finishing his degree and would graduate at the same time as me in the spring,” Charlie Dykshorn said. “I thought that was really neat. He’s been a big part of my life, and I’m happy to graduate with him.”

To finalize those seven credits, rather than taking classes, Dykshorn was assigned to write two research papers. He focused one of those papers on cover crops, and the other on agricultural biologicals in crop production.

“It was a good challenge. I was already doing cover crop work on the farm, and biologicals were new and intriguing to me,” Dykshorn said.

Mike Retallick, chair of the Department of Agricultural Education and Studies, said Dykshorn’s decision to return to Iowa State is a great accomplishment.

“It’s inspiring to see someone like Mr. Dykshorn have the courage to come back to school and finish what he started so many years ago,” Retallick said. “For him to be able to celebrate alongside his grandson is something special and cements a long-lasting legacy for him and his family. It’s certainly a life lesson for all of us – it’s never too late to pursue your goals!”

Dykshorn hopes his story serves as a source of encouragement for others.

“Life can take you many places, but it’s good to finish what you started,” Dykshorn said. “It took me a while to come back and complete my degree, but I finished it. I appreciate the encouragement I received from Ben Chamberlain, Dr. Retallick and Dr. Rinker.”