Spunky senior graduates with honors, checks degree off bucket list

By Danielle Page

On May 11, Marijo Vik will walk across the stage in Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Nemzek Fieldhouse to receive her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism.

Presumably like most of the nearly 900 soon-to-be graduates, Vik’s final semester was a balancing act. Diligently trying to keep up on classwork in order to graduate with honors. Working multiple jobs. Commuting roughly 80 miles roundtrip every day. Planning for life after graduation.

Yet she stands out from the crowd. At 72 years young, Vik is a vibrant part of the MSUM community.

Post-retirement pursuits

In Spring 1990, Vik began taking one class a semester at MSUM while working at American Crystal Sugar Company. As it tends to do, life became hectic and postponed her higher education journey. Eighteen years and several jobs later, Vik retired.

“I retired on a Saturday, and on Monday I’m like, ‘What am I going to do?’” Vik said.

At the suggestion of her husband, Eugene, Vik reluctantly attended a watershed meeting. Her extensive notes got her noticed by the local paper and ignited a new career path as a budding journalist for the Twin Valley Times.

“If you want to know what really happened in the meetings, read Marijo Vik’s articles,” said Karie Kirschbaum, publisher of the Twin Valley Times, Fertile Journal and Red Lake Falls Gazette. “She’s a stickler for details; she’s not afraid of controversy. She’s a natural.”

Covering local governmental proceedings can be wearisome. Yet Kirschbaum says Vik’s thorough, straightforward approach is getting her noticed.

“Her articles are usually controversial because she prints it all. My phone calls are usually about something she wrote,” Kirschbaum said. “People like her and know she’s a fair person. She’s hilarious and she brings out good stories in people.”

Vik’s intentional enthusiasm for life stems from helplessly watching her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She vowed to keep her hands and mind busy for as long as she was able.

“[My mom] used to love to read. She forgot how to read. She couldn’t write anymore. And she lost her mind,” Vik said. “That may happen to me, but I’m going to come into the very end, just fighting like hell.”

True to her word, Vik hasn’t slowed down as she’s aged. In addition to reporting for the Twin Valley Times, Vik serves as secretary at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Hendrum, Minn.; accounts payable, receivable manager at Schnabel, Inc.; and preaches several times a month as a lay minister.

In her spare time, Vik’s working to check items off her ambitious bucket list. The first is receiving a bachelor’s degree from MSUM. She managed to complete it just two years after returning to campus as a full-time student.

“There are a lot of things I want to do, and I have to be well enough to do them,” Vik said. “I want to eat at the very best restaurant in every state. I want to go to Germany and do genealogy research. I’d even like to teach journalism.”

Fearless and forthright

Vik’s decision to head back to college at age 70 didn’t surprise her family and friends. Those who know Vik describe her as fearless and forthright, and she says she doesn’t surprise anyone anymore.

“They’re past all the surprises. It’s just me,” Vik said. “It’s pretty tough for me to chill.”

A classmate recently pointed out to Vik that she’s not just learning about history in her classes—she’s lived it. She visited Disneyland opening week in 1955. She’s seen President Kennedy at a fundraising dinner. Witnessed segregation in Georgia and lived through the war in Vietnam.

Because she’s led such a full, remarkable life, Vik’s professors say she’s inadvertently taken on a teaching role of sorts.

“She’s demonstrating to students every day the importance of continuously learning through your life, not just quitting once you graduate,” said Martin Grindeland, professor in the MSUM School of Communication and Journalism. “She’s full of life and has a lot of passion for what she does.”

Many could never muster the courage to attend classes with those 50 years their junior and embrace somewhat intimidating technology, yet Vik encourages others to take the risk.

“You can surprise yourself sometimes,” Vik said. “You think you’re going to hate something, but you’ve just got to try it.”

Though she dreaded enrolling in her major’s technology courses, an unexpected passion for documentary journalism emerged during her studies.

“People are afraid to fail,” she said. “I was afraid to fail. I’m still afraid. But if I hadn’t tried [new technology], I wouldn’t have found a love for it.”

Vik plans to incorporate visual storytelling into her future work. She’s even convinced Kirschbaum to incorporate video on the newspapers’ websites.

“Who would think a 70-year-old would kick us into the modern era of media?” Kirschbaum said with a laugh.

Vik’s fearless attitude sets her apart from the rest.

“I think it’s fear that sometimes disables people, but she doesn’t show the fear. She might have it, but she doesn’t show it,” Grindeland said. “She jumps right in there and does the work, which allows her to achieve great and wonderful things. Her stories are excellent and she’s really demonstrated grit, as we want students to do.”

After graduation, Vik will to continue working her four jobs, including writing for Kirschbaum more frequently, and lay the initial groundwork for a visual storytelling business on the side. She also plans to travel with her husband to car shows across the country, and maybe film documentaries along the way.

“Everybody thought when I retired I would retire,” Vik said. “But I can’t stand sitting still.”

Like a tapestry, Vik says her life experiences have been woven together in an unexpected way to create something beautiful.

“Life’s messy, but it all ties together somehow to make you. Everything counts.”