Richard Jonsson is proof that there’s always something new to learn.
At 91, he is “very retired.” But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped working. Jonsson has just passed the LFCC math class he needed to obtain his associate degree in general studies.
He spent most of his career working for IBM in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
“I worked on the first electronic computer, which was called the 604,” he said.
Jonsson’s 42-year career also took him to England, Japan, France and India.
Working in India was a homecoming for him, as he was born there as a U.S. citizen in December 1925 to missionaries. His first language was “a variety of village Indian.”
Afraid he’d be drafted into World War II while he was in India, Jonsson’s parents arranged to ship him to the U.S., where he’d only spent a short period of time as a young child.
“Dad put 50 bucks in my pocket,” Jonsson recalled.
He remembered having to get onto a packed train to head to the shipyard.
“[Dad] hoisted me up and I crawled through a window,” Jonsson said. “It was Christmas day.”
Jonsson, who had started college in India, got on the ship Jan. 2, 1944.
“And, it zigzagged around the Cape and zigzagged up to New York,” he said. “Every two or three minutes, the ship would change course because submarines were out there looking for things to knock off.”
His early months in the U.S. were spent working on a farm, meaning he was able to get a draft deferral.
After his parents and brother arrived in America, Jonsson volunteered for the draft and was called up into the Navy. He never made it into battle, and upon discharge, he went to the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Jonsson was hired by IBM before finishing his studies at RIT. He stayed with the company until his 1990 retirement.
In later years, his work brought him to Manassas, which in turn led to his finding a beautiful piece of property in Fauquier County that he bought. He renovated the pre-1830s house on the property from the bottom up.
While he was working, Jonsson obtained about 25 credit hours from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, and later attended Northern Virginia Community College, taking one class at a time. He took five semesters of Arabic at NVCC.
His wife, Cheryl, obtained her general studies degree from NVCC, and later was able to obtain a master’s degree from the University of Leceister in England through distance learning.
“We were a couple that were sort of oriented towards education,” Jonsson said.
While his wife was gratified to earn degrees, Jonsson himself said he didn’t need to get “any more of my tickets punched” by earning one himself.
Following his wife’s death three years ago, Jonsson took a break from college. This past fall, he was ready to return to school, and enrolled in a math class at LFCC’s Vint Hill site. It was the final class he needed to earn his associate degree.
“What I’m doing right now with Professor [Jeremiah] Dyke is math, which is the last thing I need for an associate in general studies,” Jonsson said the day before his final exam.
The degree will be awarded by NVCC.
Having now earned about 120 credit hours, Jonsson’s also close to obtaining an associate degree in liberal arts.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said of his college experiences. “Yes, it’s kept my brain active, but I would say it has [also] enabled me to keep thinking forward, and part of the reason is I don’t have to get my tickets punched. This is to learn and to move forward. As a result, I can almost be a better student.”
A genealogy buff, Jonsson is proud of his children, six grandchildren and 14 great-children.
“I’ve really been blessed with this life,” Jonsson said. “[All my grandchildren are] very successful in my mind.”