College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

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Want proof of the saying “age is just a number”? Meet Charlene Baylis, 76 years young.

She’s a mother of three (Tony, Angela and Christina), grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 12. And, oh yes, she’s earning her associate degree at Parkland College.

“I would say she is a motivated person,” son Tony said. “With the smarts to go along with it.”

Charlene has one more course to finish to make it official. She walked with her Parkland class at its May 11 graduation, posing for pictures afterward.

Next up, earning her four-year degree.

“I love learning,” Charlene said. “This is what I wanted to do.”

And she isn’t done.

“She would love the opportunity to go to the UI,” Tony said. “She doesn’t want to move and travel anywhere, so she may even do something online that would provide her with a four-year degree.”

How does Tony feel about Mom’s late-in-life education?

“Proud,” he said. “I envy her passion for always wanting to learn. She’s always been curious of how things work, how things are structured, and she’s just trying to learn through life.”

The logical question: Why now? Well, Charlene’s been busy.

Born on July 8, 1946, in Mississippi, Charlene moved to Chicago during her school years. She was attending Hyde Park High School when she got pregnant at 16 and had to drop out to raise Tony.

“I was the culprit,” Tony said.

Charlene had bills to pay and didn’t have time for high school. She started a 40-year career at the U.S. Postal Service in the Chicago area, working as a mail handler and retiring as a group leader.

“Life happens,” Tony said. “Getting married and kids and those things.”

Later on, Charlene pursued the dreams she shared with her late mother, Nora Tunstall, and earned her high school diploma.

In 2009, Charlene moved to Champaign. Eleven years ago, she started at Parkland. The pursuit of her degree is in homage to her mother.

Role model

Charlene’s kids are doing well.

Tony, 60, is a University of Illinois graduate in liberal arts. He later worked for WCIA and the Big Ten Network. He now lives in the San Francisco bay area and works as the inclusion, diversity, equity and accountability director for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He is also a senior advisor to the Department of Energy.

Daughter Angela King lives in Champaign. She helps out at Empty Tomb.

Daughter Christiana Walker is registered nurse who works at Garden Hills Academy in Champaign.

Charlene lost one son, Christopher, three years ago.

Different world

Charlene had never dealt with computers until starting at Parkland.

“Think about having that 60-year gap from when she went to high school,” Tony said. “And how math and everything else has changed.”

Tony is quick to praise the faculty members at Parkland for their patience.

“They helped her along the way,” Tony said.

The family pitched in, too. Tony’s daughter Cydnee assisted Grandma with math.

When Charlene started high school, there were no laptops or cellphones or social media. A different time.

Renaissance woman

Charlene checks out Facebook and Instagram and stays in shape with regular workouts at the Refinery.

“I’m taking tai chi,” she said.

One of her Parkland classes gave her tips on nutrition. She tries to eat healthy food.

“She’s resilient,” Tony said.

Her faith is important to Charlene. She belongs to Stone Creek Church in Urbana and also attends services at other churches in the area.

“I read a lot of spiritual stuff,” Charlene said.

She continues to work at Sam’s Club. Charlene also volunteers at the hospital, food bank and church.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at