A lifetime of experience: 90-year-old student brings decades of knowledge to CMU classrooms

He fought in World War II. He fought for his autistic son’s rights to a public education. He fought for his own education at Central Michigan University.

Now, Peter Reale is one of CMU’s oldest students and is continuing his education this semester.

Reale, 90, is a senior auditor, taking classes in his free time while caring for his 92-year-old wife, Anne. Senior auditors take classes on campus, but do not receive a grade for participation in the class.

Reale served in the Navy from 1941-43 as a Navy Mechanist’s Mate Third Class. While in the service, he was stationed in the southwest and south Pacific. Reale spent time in Guam, Okinawa and Saipan.

“(After we got out), we were brought to Long Island and telephoned our parents to come get us,” Reale said.

After getting leaving the Navy, Reale married Anne in 1949 after meeting her in their state board exam for cosmetology licenses in New York. Reale said he saw her at the exam and knew he had to talk to her.

“She got done, and I said wait for me,” Reale said. “I just yelled it across a room (while) taking an exam."

He met Anne down the street at the Paramount Theater. They saw the feature film, then watched the vaudeville show after. The two got dinner at a local diner and have been inseparable since.

“It cost 65 cents each for us to have dinner,” Reale said. “Can you imagine that? I had $10 to last me a week. It was so expensive.”

The two have been married for 63 years, recently celebrating an anniversary on Nov. 13.

The two started a family after they married. Reale and his wife adopted their son, Raymond, in 1961 when Raymond was three months old.

Anne took their son to the doctor and was told Raymond was autistic.

“It was a term that wasn’t common back then,” Reale said. "We didn’t know what it was or how to deal with it. The doctors didn’t do much, either.”

Caring for Raymond was a full-time job that he and Anne worked together while running multiple barbershops around Michigan. Reale started taking classes at CMU in 1958, but found the direction he wanted to take his education in 1961 after adopting Raymond.

“I’ve been at Central since 1958,” Reale said. “I graduated with a BS in ’75. It was in special education planned programs.”

Reale said his education happened between haircuts, shampoos, scrubbing floors, running six shops and taking care of his son. He said his education has always been important, and he’s glad to have CMU close to home.

Orlando Perez, Reale’s political science professor, said he enjoys having Reale in class.

“I’m very glad to have (Reale) in my class,” Perez said. “He interacts very well with other students. He is generally quiet in class, but the times he participates he brings a unique perspective to the topics covered in class.”

Perez said the class was discussing Social Security and issues surrounding it one day. He said Reale was the only one with actual direct experience with the government program.

“Another time we were discussing government support for education,” Perez said. “His experience with the GI Bill of Rights, which helped World War II veterans get a college education. He was very helpful.”

Reale said it was only recently when he noticed the real age difference between him and the rest of his classmates.

“This is the first time I noticed in all these years that all these people are 60, 70 years younger,” Reale said. “And it’s bothering me. There’s no possible way of being one of them.”


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