Coal Miner graduates from SIU 30 years after first starting undergraduate study

Coal Miner graduates from SIU 30 years after first starting undergraduate study
By: Carly O'Keefe
CARBONDALE, Ill. - A Campbell Hill man was laid off after working more than a quarter of a decade in the mines. Saturday he walked the stage at Southern Illinois University, earning a bachelor's in accounting.     
Forty-eight-year-old Dennis Luehr says he is ready to graduate. He first started his undergraduate work at SIU during fall semester 1976. Dennis dropped out to take a job at the Ziegler #11 mine. He worked there for 26 years until the mine closed in 2004.
"At that point, I was like: 'Oh no, I don't want it to close, I don't want to shift gears after all these years," said Luehr.
He could have chosen to retire; but instead Luehr decided to finish what he started back in 1976.
"I am so proud of him you wouldn't believe it. I always knew he could do it because he's very intelligent, but it takes a lot of drive. He's put a lot of hours in over the past two and a half years," said Luehr's wife Audrey Luehr.
Luehr held quite a few certifications during his time as a coal miner-- but none of them meant as much to him as the certificate he received Saturday from the SIU College of Business.
"The coal mine was fine, but it was a job. You just do it. But when you're into something you really enjoy, that's the difference between a career and a job," said Luehr.
Luehr's love of learning inspired his wife Audrey to seek her degree too. She's currently enrolled in banking courses at John A. Logan Community college. Luehr encourages anyone who finds him or herself without a job, no matter what age, to get a degree.
"That's like a milestone. They can't take that away from you. You have assets up here," said Luehr pointing to his brain. "If they say you don't have a job here anymore, you can go somewhere else and do something else. You're not abandoned."
Luehr is the winner of the Ernst and Young Outstanding Senior in Accounting Scholarship. He graduated with honors Saturday at the SIU Arena.