Retired Navy commander George Ricabaugh recently received his high school diploma. He gave a speech to the Class of 2011 graduates during commencement on Sunday.
Retired Navy commander George Ricabaugh recently received his high school diploma. He gave a speech to the Class of 2011 graduates during commencement on Sunday.
Former Spring Valley resident George Ricabaugh was able to receive his high school diploma Sunday during the Kingsland commencement ceremony, 52 years after his Spring Valley High School Class of 1959 classmates.

The 70-year-old retired commander of the United States Navy said he is "thrilled" to be finally receiving his diploma and that he had always wanted to have it.

"When people asked me how I went to college without a high school diploma, I would tell them 'I did it backwards.' I went to college first and now I finally have the paper to validate the paper trail from kindergarten to my master's degree," he said.

Ricabaugh said he is also receiving his diploma for his mother, Maggie Gragert, 94, of Spring Valley, who was always disappointed that he did not get it.

He approached Kingsland Principal Jim Hecimovich about receiving his diploma - after 52 years and four college and university degrees without it -and Hecimovich said that it would be possible for him to graduate with the current class.

Ricabaugh added that after attending Winona State for a year he was eligible to receive his high school diploma then but he couldn't take the time to go and get it because he was working his way through college.

He said, "I am humbled by the class of 2011, teachers and staff for the outpouring they have given me, to be included as a graduate with the class and to be a speaker."

About Ricabaugh

Ricabaugh was born in 1940 in Regina, Sesk., Canada. His father was American and fought in World War I. His mother was from Canada. When he was half way done with first grade, they moved from Canada to a dairy farm 6.5 miles south of Spring Valley off of Highway 63. He noted that the teachers in Spring Valley wanted to put him into second grade because they felt he was ready for it, but his mother wanted him to go into first grade, so he entered first grade in September 1947.

He had to drop out of high school at the age of 17 in 1958, at the end of his junior year, to help support his family when times got tough on the farm a few years after his father died in 1955.

Ricabaugh decided that the Army would be a good choice for him because there weren't too many job opportunities in Spring Valley. His mother was not too pleased with his decision to enlist in the Army after leaving school. Ricabaugh noted that his father had served and had never wanted his son to enlist and his mother wanted to continue with his wishes. He said finally his mother signed the papers - with tears in her eyes - and he was off. "When my class graduated I was in Germany," he said.

He went to basic training and was assigned to Bravo Battery Third Missile Battalion of the 71st Air Defense Area. When he was discharged from the Army in 1961 he came back to Spring Valley. Ricabaugh noted that then veterans, if they had completed 11th grade and passed an entrance exam, they had to let the applicant into college. He took two extension courses at the University of Minnesota, one in civics and the other in U.S. history. Then he took the entrance exam.

Ricabaugh credited his stepfather, Al Miller, for "greasing the skids to get into college" through his connections. He went to Winona State and graduated in July 18, 1964, with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education. He then left that afternoon to go to Boston, Mass., to attend Officer Candidate School in New Port, R.I. Ricabaugh graduated as a naval officer in November 1964 and then traveled to Pensacola, Fla., to become a naval flight officer and aviator. From 1966 to 1971 he flew combat missions in Vietnam. After that stint he flew fulltime for the Navy until 1980.

Ricabaugh said he has flown all types of aircrafts from single to multiple engines, carrier and land-based. He was in four different squadrons and an air wing division.

After 1980, he spent three years in Arizona creating "secure encrypted communication across lines." Then he went to Puerto Rico for three years, working on converting the frequency system used by submarines. After that stint, he traveled to London, England, and worked there for three years as the inspector general for nuclear command control and communication systems in Europe.

His last assignment with the Navy was at a U.S. Post Graduate School in California where he taught curriculum on nuclear control and command systems.

He retired from the Navy in 1991 after a total of 28 years of service. During his career in both the Army and Navy, Ricabaugh received around 30 medal ribbons and 40 medals.

Over the years, he also completed his master's degree in elementary education and received two associate degrees, one in restaurant management and the other in culinary arts. He has worked as a chef at various locations.

He has spent the last 20 years living in San Antonio, Texas, and now he is in the process of moving to Zumbrota, Minn. He loves to travel and has traveled to numerous locales, both through his Navy career and in his personal time - spending a total of 17 years off of the continental U.S.

Ricabaugh has three children, Peter, 50, who lives in Germany; Jeffery, 42, who lives in Texas; and Amy, 38, who lives in Maryland. He also has two grandchildren.

He owns a 40 ft. motor home that he travels in "up north in the summertime and down south in the wintertime" with his cat, which he added recently passed away so he is looking into a new travel companion.

Ricabaugh said he loves to read and that he never travels anywhere without reading material. "That is how I learn. I never leave home without a book. On every assignment, I would have a little bag for books. I read for the adventure of it," he said, adding that he read the Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover.

He also likes to stay active by swimming, running, and sailing. He is currently working on his 18ft. sailing boat in his garage in Zumbrota, planning to take it out on the Minnesota lakes this summer.

He has also kept in touch with his Spring Valley High School classmates by attending some reunions over the years. The last one he attended was the class' 50th in 2009.

Advice for graduates

His advice for the Kingsland Class of 2011 is to "set your sights high." He also wants the graduates to be aware of two Chinese curses in their future: "May you live in interesting times" and "Be careful what you wish for."

Ricabaugh said, "There's nothing you can't do if you take the time to evaluate what's required to obtain the goal you want. Look at me, I was a poor farm boy."

He added that graduation day is a transition and a rite of passage. "It's a transition from one phase to the next. You are now preparing to go out in the world and do something."

He said he thoroughly subscribes to the lifelong learner mentality, adding, "Never stop learning. Education for the sake of education should not be a goal but the thirst for education to gain knowledge should be. That will enable you to more productively contribute to society."

He added that he has also noticed that "some of the least educated people come up with the most simplistic way to solve problems."

"Every human being is capable of doing anything given the opportunity," Ricabaugh added, "We are all equal."

As for a parting word of advice, he added, "when you do something, do it right the first time."