Lake Shore Public Schools Superintendent Joe DiPonio takes a selfie with Ruth Frezza, a 98-year-old woman who was made an honorary graduate of the Lake Shore High School Class of 1938.

Lake Shore Public Schools Superintendent Joe DiPonio takes a selfie with Ruth Frezza, a 98-year-old woman who was made an honorary graduate of the Lake Shore High School Class of 1938.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Woman achieves dream of high school graduation, 80 years later

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 2, 2018

 Board of Education President Shannon Ketelhut presents Frezza with her diploma.

Board of Education President Shannon Ketelhut presents Frezza with her diploma.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Niki Posner, of Macomb Township, looks at her grandmother’s diploma.

Niki Posner, of Macomb Township, looks at her grandmother’s diploma.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Ruth Frezza has lived a long life.

The 98-year-old Mount Clemens resident grew up in St. Clair Shores before marrying her husband, having children, raising a family in Allen Park and retiring to Florida. She has two children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. 

She moved back to Michigan in 1990 when her husband got sick, and she lived for nearly 30 years with children in Sterling Heights and in a condominium of her own in Clinton Township, until she needed more help and made the move to a senior facility in Mount Clemens.

Frezza doesn’t talk much, said her granddaughter, Niki Posner, of Macomb Township, but one day she began opening up, talking about the things she had — and had not — accomplished in her many decades.

“One day in November — my mom goes to see her every single day — she got really, really chatty. She talked nonstop for like an hour,” Posner said. “She was talking about growing up and her family, and the one thing that she said that I never knew about was that she never graduated and she wished she had.” 

Posner said that Frezza dropped out of school at age 16 to help raise her siblings.

“She met my grandpa shortly after that. They got married, started having a family,” Posner said. 

When Posner found out where Frezza, who was originally Ruth Osterman, went to high school, she jumped on Facebook and started looking for anyone who had contacts at Lake Shore High School. A cousin knew Lake Shore Public Schools Superintendent Joe DiPonio and put them in touch.

“We certainly wanted to make sure that we could do this for them,” he said. “It’s really a no-brainer.”

DiPonio worked with the Board of Education, which approved the awarding of an honorary diploma to Ruth Osterman, who was supposed to be part of the Class of 1938. She attended Lake Shore High School until 1936. 

“At 98, I think you’ve done everything in life you need to to get this,” DiPonio said. “It’s a great example for our current students. We talk about family and the importance of family all the time. Not just within their own family, but within the school community.

“If we can grant this wish to one of the probably oldest living members of our Lake Shore family, then it’s a no-brainer.”

So it was that on the afternoon of Feb. 25, Frezza was awarded her high school diploma from the comfort of her own home.

“There’s not much you can give to somebody who’s 98 years old, so to be able to give her something like this that she’s probably wanted her whole life, it’s pretty amazing they can do this for her,” Posner said. 

She said her grandmother doesn’t like much of a fuss to be made over her, but she knew Frezza would be really happy.

At 98, she got to celebrate being part of the Class of 2018, a distinction she will share with a great-grandchild, who graduates high school this year as well.