Passion for learning trumps death

Earning a GED at 36 years old, a bachelor’s degree at 53, a master’s degree at 63 and continuing at Linfield College was simply the life of Chaye Gnessin-Joie. She studied until health became too big of an obstacle to overcome.

Gnessin-Joie, who began sitting in on classes at Linfield during her early 80s, passed away Nov. 24, at home. She was 85.

According to her obituary in the McMinnville News-Register, Gnessin-Joie had a passion for learning since early childhood, fueled by her mother, who obtained a degree in sociology from Columbia University.

“(Education) was probably the most important thing—first there were her kids and then her education,” Gnessin-Joie’s daughter, Becky Donaly, said. “She was kind of a professional student.”

Because of a rough and poor childhood, Gnessin-Joie was never able to complete high school. Only after she was married and had three children, could she work for her GED, the obituary said.

However, furthering her education was never far from her mind. Hard times and rock-bottom moments did not stop her from achieving her goals. Before her death, Gnessin-Joie was attempting to earn her doctorate, but advanced diabetes and time would not let her accomplish that last goal, Donaly said.

Donaly said what she loved about her mother was her zest for life and upbeat spirit. Nothing could bring her down.

“She really enjoyed living, especially by the time she got to her 80s when she knew the time was getting close,” she said. “She tried to make the most out of life.”

A devout Jewish woman, Gnessin-Joie was always interested in philosophy, ethics, especially concerning medicine, and religion, the courses which Gnessin-Joie pursued at Linfield, Donaly said.

“She just loved going to school,” Donaly said. “She loved going with the (students) and the teachers. All my friends thought it was really remarkable that she still liked going to Linfield and liked going to school (at that age).”

Donaly also emphasized her mother’s love for Linfield, the students and professors. She said her mother never complained about the school or anyone in it. Her reception by Linfield was warm and giving.

“The students were wonderful, every one of them,” Donaly said. “They all were good and very kind to her. She talked to all the students (and) everybody would listen to her, and she’d just enjoy it.”

Gnessin-Joie was known around campus for speaking frequently with students as a regular in Dillin Hall and through telling her life stories during classes. Senior Andrew Silkroski said he remembered seeing Gnessin-Joie in Dillin frequently his first two years at Linfield.

On occasion, if the two happened to be sitting near each other, they would participate in small talk, and he often took her tray to the dishwashing area for her, since it was difficult for her to get around.

“We would just talk about the weather (and) sit there shooting the breeze,” Silkroski said. “She was friendly, like my grandma.”

Silkroski said he found it interesting to see a woman of Gnessin-Joie’s age going to Linfield, when the average student’s age is between 18 and 22.

Junior Luke Rembold also shared Silkroski’s opinion, and said it was a little strange to see someone of Gnessin-Joie’s age in his Inquiry Seminar class when he was a freshman, but he soon grew comfortable with the idea.

“When she first showed up, we were kind of confused, but after a while she talked a little bit more and we figured out what she was doing,” Rembold said. “(You could tell) she just loved class and school and learning.”

Rembold also said having Gnessin-Joie in his class gave the students some different opinions to consider than they normally would see in an average classroom because of the different perspectives she had compared to a group of college students.

Silkroski said he could tell Gnessin-Joie had lived through a lot and had some interesting stories to share.

“One of the things I learned from doing community service in high school was everyone has a story, and I was curious to know what hers was,” he said.

Gnessin-Joie’s life was one of extreme highs and lows. But, it was obvious to all that knowledge and passing on her love of life was what mattered most.

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