Lynda Farren has been a successful entrepreneur her entire life, the last 20 or so years as owner of Farren Property Management in Hayesville.
So why would the successful business owner return to college at Western Carolina University to complete her bachelor’s degree in innovation leadership and entrepreneurship?
“I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life,” said Farren, who at 73, is believed to be one of the university’s oldest undergraduates. “I finally figured I needed a piece of paper to prove that I knew what I was doing.”
Well, that’s not the real reason Farren returned to school. But it did check off an item on her bucket list. The opportunity presented itself after her husband passed away five years ago.
“I didn’t have anything to do except run my company, which doesn’t take very much energy,” Farren said. “I was bored and I said, ‘Hey, I can do this now.’ It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And then I have to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.”
Farren’s entrepreneurial spirit began when she was a fifth or sixth grader. One summer, she was sitting in a childhood friend’s kitchen. The two were bored, so her friend’s mother suggested they start a daycare.
“Remember, this was 50 years ago,” Farren said. “You couldn’t get away with that now.”
At the time, Farren was already babysitting. They went and talked to all of the mothers she was babysitting for and charged them 25 cents a kid to watch them for three hours.
“We made a fortune,” Farren said. “And we did it on Tuesdays and Thursdays because we didn’t want to screw up our summer vacation. We went to their house and brought all of the kids to my backyard. We colored. We played games. And the mothers had three hours of free time.”
Farren lived in several places growing up. After graduating from high school in St. Louis, she attended Stratford College in Danville, Virginia, but didn’t finish. She worked a few jobs, we fired twice, which quickly opened her eyes.
“I don’t work well with others because they’re not doing it the right way,” Farren said. “I learned I needed to be the boss.”
In the back of her mind, she knew she wanted to return to school someday and complete her degree. Initially, she applied to WCU and NC State. Both turned her down. The schools wanted to see a copy of the catalog of the classes she had taken. Not only did she not have a copy, but Stratford College had closed in 1975.
Farren ended up getting a copy of the catalog from the Historical Society in Danville, Virginia, but by then, Larry Hammer, WCU’s registrar, had already informed her that she was accepted.
Returning to the classroom wasn’t the hard part for Farren. It was the technology that comes with today’s learning, such as learning how to use Blackboard, and now Canvas, WCU’s learning management system for students.
One of the things Farren enjoyed most at WCU was getting her younger classmates to have discussions.
“I would say something silly to make them laugh,” Farren said. “I’m not afraid to speak out because I don’t care what they think, whereas they do care what everybody thinks. I’ve enjoyed trying to get them involved in whatever the class is. You’ve got to learn something from each class. If you can walk away having learned one thing, it was worth it.”
Despite the age difference, Farren did her best to fit in. She even successfully joined a sorority.
“I did the rush,” Farren said. “I got accepted into one of them. But I decided not to go that route. The texting actually was driving me nuts. Twenty-four hours a day. I went. I did it. I tried it.”
Her biggest surprise, however, was seeing how many people have been proud of her accomplishment.
“There was a lady that was cleaning one of the rooms in Forsyth (Building) and I was sitting in a room waiting to go into a class,” Farren said. “Of course, she thought I was a teacher. It’s amazing what I can get away with around here. People don’t question teachers. Anyway, she and I started talking she said, ‘I’m really proud of you.’ I said, ‘You can do this as well.’ I didn’t expect that from so many different people. It’s a nice little reward.”
Farren will have 25 friends and family members on hand to watch her cross the stage in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center to receiver her degree. From there, she plans to complete a children’s book that she has written for her grandchildren as Christmas presents.
And Farren plans to be a fan enthusiast and follow the Great Race, a race of pre-World War II cars that will travel on backroads from Warwick, Rhode Island to Fargo, North Dakota.
“After I do that, I’ll figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up,” Farren said.