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WWII veteran, 91, newest student at University of Arizona

(KTAR Photo/Kathy Cline)

PHOENIX — The University of Arizona has a freshman student who has a little more life experience than others: 91-year-old Navy and World War II veteran Jim Chaffins.

“I’m a 91-year-old freshman at the University of Arizona enrolled in online classes,” Chaffins, who lives in a retirement community, said. “I enjoy it very much, but, like I tell people, it’s not the destination. It’s the trip, the getting there.”

Chaffins graduated from high school a semester early and enrolled at Virginia Tech in 1943, but his education was interrupted when he went to fight in the war.

After he returned, he went to work in the printing industry. He set type on newspapers.

He spent the last 70-some years earning a living and raising a family. He also bought, grew and sold his own printing plant.

But Chaffins said he always felt something was missing from his life, despite all that he had learned and seen.

When he decided he wanted to go back to school, he was worried he would have to start over after a UA enrollment counselor asked to see his transcripts.

“So I called [Virginia Tech], and I told them I needed a transcript,” Chaffins said. “And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s no problem.’ And I said, ‘Well, we’re talking about the spring semester 1943.'”

The transcripts were found and UA accepted them. Chaffins had nine credit hours to his name.

Chaffins is taking online classes and was learning how to use a computer.

“We went through everything step by step, and it helped me build a mental script to guide other students through the same process,” Kami Merrifield, an online academic success specialist, said.

Merrifield said Chaffins already has been a contributor in his online classes.

“He’s definitely had an impact,” she said. “I’ve heard from professors that they love UA Online students because they bring interesting, real-life examples from these fields and he does that better than anyone. It creates a really rich environment that benefits all students.

“Knowing there are people out there who love learning and are willing to jump into this challenge … I think it gives others the confidence to do it.”