Veteran finishes degree two decades later

Vernon BarlowVernon Barlow

Vernon Barlow is back. After attending Centralia College for a short stint in 1995, Barlow, a US veteran, recently decided to return to CC to finish his degree. He plans to graduate this June with an associate degree in business and an emphasis in management.

Having spent a number of years in the military and later in the work force, Barlow brings a unique perspective to his learning—real world experience. During his military career with the Air Force, Barlow served as an aircraft mechanic in Louisiana, North Dakota and Guam. After his parents relocated to the Onalaska area from Seattle, Barlow decided to make this area his home as well, moving to Lewis County after finishing his military service. That’s when he first started his business degree at Centralia College almost two decades ago. However, after attending only two quarters, he quit school in order to support his new family.

Over the years that followed, Barlow held a variety of jobs that included working in sawmills, managing a cleaning outfit, supervising a warehouse dock, managing a staffing agency, and most recently, working with an explosives company in Onalaska, something he said he really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the job’s physical demands aggravated old knee and back injuries he had received while in the military, forcing him to look for something different.

That something different turned out to be Centralia College. “The VA decided to send me to school,” Barlow jokingly admitted, referring to the counsel he received from the Veterans Administration. He returned to CC in 2013.

Even with years of management experience under his belt, Barlow is pleased with how much he is learning in the business program. “It’s been great. I’ve got to learn a whole lot of wonderful things. It’s really going to pay off better for me to have the degree.”

Even so, his job and life experience have played an important role in his education. As a self-appointed mentor to younger classmates, he has helped them understand why the classes are important. “I’ve been able to deal with younger people and give them real world experience,” shared Barlow. “It’s been awesome.”

In addition to mentoring fellow CC students, Barlow is also actively involved in our community through the American Legion, the largest veteran’s organization. Passionate about helping veterans and their families, Barlow has served as the American Legion district commander of the Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific County area and has been asked to step into higher leadership roles once he completes his degree. He also serves as the Western Washington co-chairman for the American Legion Evergreen Boys and Girls State mock-government summer program.

On campus, Barlow serves even more veterans through the Centralia College Veteran’s Center located in Kemp. “Vern did work study (in the Vet’s Center) for a couple of years. He’s well-versed in veteran’s stuff,” said Rodney Saarela, the college’s veterans-corps coordinator. Last year, Barlow helped start the Vet’s Club on campus and served as president. “To help and guide young and even older vets has been a blessing.”

In the same way, Barlow himself feels blessed by the people at Centralia College who have poured into his life. “Every instructor I ever had has just been totally awesome.” He credits professors Connie Smejkal, Otto Rabe and Jeff McQuarry as having been very instrumental in guiding his career.

After graduating from Centralia College this June, Barlow hopes to find work and then eventually return to pursue his bachelor’s degree. Pleased with his educational experience, Barlow is excited that his daughter, now a high school junior, wants to attend Centralia College. “It’s going to be awesome for my daughter.”

Veterans at Centralia College

The Centralia College Veteran’s Center was launched in 2013 under the direction of Rodney Saarela who was instrumental in getting it started. The center provides a safe place for vets to come study, get help, use computers, complete forms, or just hang out with other students who can relate. Most veterans who attend CC are full time students utilizing VA funding.

Centralia College proudly salutes our 125 veterans on campus this quarter, and we thank you for your service to our country!


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