Born in England in the mid 1920s, Joan Deebank grew up during the Great Depression. When her father told her to drop out of school at thirteen to get a job, she worked as a maid until two years later during the Second World War. She then quit her job and lied about her age to join the army, where she worked on the front lines serving the soldiers. She eventually suffered hearing loss from the noise of the guns.
Deebank later married a soldier and had four children. The family immigrated to Ontario and then BC.
Between motherhood and two jobs, Deebank never found the time to go back to school. She kept her mind sharp reading magazines on science, archeology, biology and art. The late Stephen Hawking was — and still is — a favourite.
Sometimes, as she got older, she would sit with the material and cry. “She would have tears rolling down, mourning the loss of her education,” her daughter said.
Last November, Lightfoot reached out to Island ConnectEd, a distributed learning school on Vancouver Island. Deebank enrolled in B.C.’s “Adult Dogwood” program, which is tailored to older students who want to earn their high school diploma.
Island ConnectEd teachers designed her curriculum and gave assignments to Lightfoot, who broke them down into manageable chunks. They’d work on projects together until Deebank was tired, then pick it up again another day. They kept at it until Deebank finished this spring.
The 92-year-old walked the stage with her class on Tuesday, collecting her diploma to a standing ovation. (CBC British Columbia)