The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 12, 2013

College degree is daughter’s gift for mother

When Missy Omar, 48, walked across the stage at University of Charleston-Beckley to accept her master’s degree in criminal justice administration Saturday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, it was a gift.

“This is my Mother’s Day present for my mother,” said Omar.

Omar’s mother, 76-year-old Marye Rhodes of Beckley, always wanted her daughter to go to college.

 Omar — who was always interested in education — achieved their dream in a big way.

It was a journey of love and a display of the bond between mother and daughter.

 

From the start, Rhodes said, Omar was “special.”

Diagnosed with the kidney inflammation disease nephritis at age 4, she spent a year at a Morgantown hospital.

She was prescribed steroids as treatment, which resulted in rapid weight gain.

But the rounds of medication and doctors’ appointments did nothing to dampen her zest for living, Rhodes recalled.

“She didn’t miss a beat,” said the mother. “She’s always been determined. She went right through her day care, kindergarten, school and ballet.”

She was a little girl who loved animals, recalled Rhodes.

“She used to bring little worms home, carried little bees around in her hand,” said Rhodes. “She wouldn’t kill a snake or let you kill one.”

Rhodes worked as a writer for The Raleigh Register and The Beckley Post-Herald, Beckley’s two local newspapers, and she enjoyed rearing Omar in the tight-knit Beckley community.

Rhodes’ parents helped with child care, and because of her work, she and her kids met nearly everyone in downtown Beckley — from Raleigh County Sheriff Okey Mills to the clerks at Murphy’s Mart.

“(Parents) could do things like that then,” said Rhodes. “I’d be afraid to turn (kids) loose now.”

Through Omar’s childhood and teen years, Rhodes recalled, one idea remained constant.

“She wanted to go to college.”

And Rhodes wanted Omar to go to college.

 

Omar left home for Florida in 1989. 

Living in the Sunshine State, she had careers in juvenile justice and property management.

She took college courses around her busy work schedule, but she wasn’t on a fast-track to a degree, she said.

Meanwhile, back in Beckley, Rhodes’ mother died.

“I feel like a part of my heart died,” said Rhodes. “I lost my best friend.”

Rhodes began taking care of her brother, a close sibling who had been severely physically handicapped his whole life.

“My health had started fading,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize it. I was struggling emotionally.”

When the properties market in Florida was hit badly by the recession, Omar felt the pinch.

“There were a lot of things that played a role in my decision to come back to Beckley,” she said. “My mom was getting older, struggling to take care of my uncle and work, too. The economy just kind of fell apart down there, so I called my mom and said, ‘Can I come home?’”

Omar said she came with a plan.

Omar told Rhodes, “I want to come home, help you pay your bills to zero and go to school when I can go full-time and be home as much as I can.”

So in 2002, Omar said, she moved back to Beckley.

Once back in town, she began working at a ranch in Fayette County, with the Raleigh County Commission on Aging and with the local animal rescue.

She and Rhodes moved twice, purchasing a home in Beckley.

According to plan, they paid off the debt.

Omar enrolled at Mountain State University.

 

In 2008, the mother and daughter entered a rocky terrain that hadn’t been part of the plan when Rhodes was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was a difficult time emotionally and physically, and Omar and Rhodes “locked horns” when deciding on a course of treatment.

Some medical professionals wanted Rhodes to have a lumpectomy and to undergo radiation and chemotherapy.

Omar — still a student at MSU — petitioned her mother to have both breasts surgically removed.

Omar said she was concerned that the cancer would attack her mother’s second breast.

In the end, Rhodes went with Omar’s plan and had a double mastectomy.

 Omar’s brother became ill in July.

“My brother was a full-care patient,” Rhodes explained. “He was intelligent, and that made it hard on him because he realized it ... and hard on me, too.”

He died in August 2010, Rhodes said.

In November 2010, Rhodes began to feel tired.

After a heart catheterization, doctors performed a quadruple bypass surgery.

After the surgery, a doctor delivered news that made Rhodes grateful she’d listened to Omar’s advice on the radiation therapy, she said.

 “A doctor told me if I had had the chemo or radiation, my chest bones would’ve crumbled and the granules would’ve gone into the heart and killed me when I had the heart surgery,” she said. “It flashed through my mind, how many women don’t know this?”

While continuing on her studies, Omar cared for her mother through the surgeries, including a gall bladder surgery.

In 2012, MSU lost its accreditation, and UC accepted students as UC students — a transition period that was stressful for most.

Despite the challenges, Omar continued with her studies.

She said faculty and staff at MSU and UC were helpful, including Dr. Michael Kane, Dr. Joseph Smith and Douglas Orr.

She kept pursuing her interests in psychology and criminal justice, serving as president of Sigma Alpha Omega, the criminal justice association, and vice president of Delta Delta Epsilon, the forensic sciences honors society.

 

At the MSU-UC “transition graduation” Saturday, Omar received her master’s degree in criminal justice administration.

“This is my Mother’s Day present for my mother,” said Omar.

To date, she also has two associate’s degrees (general studies and criminal justice), three bachelor’s (psychology, criminal justice and social and behavioral science), and a post-baccalaureate certificate in criminal justice education.

She plans to pursue a doctorate degree.

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