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84-year-old Nicholas Midelis
If there were a "University of Life" and it gave out diplomas for experience, Nicholas Midelis would have a Ph.D. Instead, Midelis, 84, will pick up his associate in arts degree from Indian River Community College.
The school doesn't keep records on the ages of its graduates, but "if he's not our oldest ever, he's certainly one of our oldest," spokeswoman Michelle Abaldo said. Midelis entered IRCC in 1994, not long after he closed the family-owned Hilltop House restaurant north of Fort Pierce.
With time on his hands and a head packed with memories, Midelis decided to write his memoirs; he thought it would be a good idea to be a college-educated author. Midelis was born in 1920 in Brooklyn and grew up in New York, where his father, Harry Midelis, the son of Greek immigrants, was in the restaurant business. "I went to school with Jimmy Cagney," he said.
Midelis eventually moved to Ft. Pierce where his family ran the family restaurant for 45 years. "It's been my goal since I left the restaurant to complete my education," says Midelis.
Midelis calls being at IRCC "the greatest experience of my life. This place has got the best teachers and the best administration in all of Florida. It's full of dedicated, experienced and skilled instructors who go all out for their students."
For IRCC professors, Midelis was a walking history book. Dr. Richard Mulanax, a professor of history and government, has taught Midelis in several classes beginning several years ago with a course on American foreign policy. "We were talking about the Korean War, and Nick had some very strong opinions, of course, because he remembered it so well," Mulanax said.
Mulanax welcomed Midelis' contributions "because they stimulated the other students to get involved. He didn't monopolize the discussions, but he was never shy. Fortunately, my other students weren't shy either. It made for a great class."
In the almost 10 years it's taken to earn his associate's degree, Midelis has become a familiar figure on the IRCC campus, riding to class on an electric scooter necessitated by heart bypass surgery in 1984, knee replacement surgery in 1994 and an arthritic back. "I only go half-time," he said of his slow-but-determined academic pace. "I don't want to push it. I'm going for the knowledge; that's what's important to me." With his IRCC diploma in hand, Midelis will be well on his way to getting his bachelor's degree from Florida Atlantic University, where he's already listed as a senior.