by Melina Paris/Opinion editor/@parismelina
A special graduate this year at LBCC is 70-year-old Clara Chase.
The septuagenarian is a double amputee is on a mission to keep moving and helping others. Chase will graduate with an associate of arts in human services this semester and transfer to Cal State Long Beach in the fall.
Originally from Scottsville, KY and raised in Nashville, TN. She started her college education in Ohio at Central State University, but attended only one semester. Chase was struck by a car the day after her high school graduation and hadn’t healed from that accident as much as her doctors wanted.
But the pragmatic and optimistic Chase said, “That’s OK though, because I spent most of my life near colleges, Vanderbilt, George Peabody, Fisk and many more around the southwest corner of Nashville.”
A curious and inquisitive person, she said living near so many institutions of higher learning influenced her. To date, she has 188 units after all her studies. She recalled that back in the 1970s, it didn’t even cost $10 for three classes and books were only about $5-$10.
In 1971, Chase was California bound to visit a friend who worked for the Compton Unified School District as a cook, baker and also taught cooking classes. The educational setting and California weather, interested Chase. She immediately applied and was offered a job as a substitute cafeteria worker in the Fall.
Chase had a successful 30-year career, eventually becoming a supervisor working at both Compton and Dominguez high school’s. By the 1990s at Compton, she even taught pregnant teens and the fathers-to-be.
“We met with the school to discuss if there was something we could do to help these teens,” Chase said. “I suggested that if they were willing to help me, I would like to do something. Many people don’t want to go through all of that, to put out the time or effort to make a difference, because that’s what this is.”
The Rev. Prentiss Mitchell Jr., from St. Luke Holy Baptist Church in Long Beach said, “If I were asked to provide one word that best describes her, I would quickly choose, determined. She has set very high standards for herself and she possesses the drive, focus and determination to attain them all. She never complains or make excuses.
“She does not demand special treatment, she only asks for equal access and opportunity. Mother Chase has been a tremendous asset to our fellowship and an inspiration to all of us.”
Chase decided to leave her job when she was close to retirement and due to diabetes, was also losing her sight.
“I stayed home and ate too much, but after a time, you have to do something different,” Chase said.
At 62, after experiencing complications from being overweight, having diabetes and nerve damage, Chase went through a bariatric bypass, then eventually lost both her legs. During the challenging time, she received help through the SCAN organization to gain independence at home. The agency provided Chase with a regular home visitor who Chase became close to. Chase told her she wanted to return to school so SCAN helped her out with logistics and provided her a wheelchair.
“Many older people say they are tired, want to stay home, look at TV or out the window,” Chase said. “You have to keep moving. My wheelchair is torn up because I move so much. I try not to kill it, but I have to go.”
And off she went, to anything LBCC offered starting with exercise classes in 2010. She became motivated to continue and took every class she could.
“If you put yourself out there, someone will grab you and take you where you need to go, Chase said. “It’s there, you just have to do it. I always knew I wanted to do something to help people get to a different spot.”