Twice in a Lifetime

February 12, 2003

During the last six decades, Weldon Bigony of Big Spring, Texas, has lived in five countries, flown seven types of aircraft and, most recently, qualified for two events at the National Senior Games. At age 82, he certainly deserves a little rest and relaxation. 
What he wants is his college diploma. 
Last fall, Bigony returned to Baylor to complete the final 24 credits he needs to earn his BBA degree - literally business left unfinished since 1941 when America entered WWII, interrupting his senior year. 
"Rather than being called up to be a foot soldier, which I didn't relish, I left school so I could pick my service," he says of his departure from campus that winter. Putting his college career on indefinite hold, Bigony excelled in the Naval Air Corps and was named class valedictorian at ground school. "When I wasn't eating or sleeping, I was studying," he recalls. 
It's that type of self-discipline Bigony drew on when he re-entered Baylor last August. He admits he still spends much of his time studying for the classes he?s taking, 12 credit hours last fall and 12 hours this spring. "It's a whole new ball game for me, but I've just got to get in the books." 
Actually, ball games were what helped bring him to Baylor on a football scholarship in 1938, the year he also was a starting player on the basketball team and ran track. Bigony later left basketball and track, but did play on the 1941 Baylor football team that shocked No. 1-ranked University of Texas with a 7-7 tie game.
More than 60 years later, wanting to finish what he started, he asked Baylor if he could complete his degree on an athletic scholarship. The unusual request was a long shot, Bigony says. 
"I've asked for it, I've been granted the opportunity, and so now I just have to do it. There's a certain amount of pressure there," he says. 
Since retiring from a 40-year career as a pilot at age 61, Bigony has volunteered at nursing homes, hospitals and prisons. He's also found time to train for the Texas Senior Games in race walking, a sport he picked up several years after hip replacements forced him to stop running. This June, he'll compete in the nationals in Virginia in the 1,500-meter and 5-kilometer races. 
But it's the opportunity to once again be a Baylor student that he's focused on now. "I'm having the time of my life," Bigony says. "I can't remember when I enjoyed anything so much." Although initially a bit of a novelty to some of his classmates ("They knew I was too old to be faculty, but I had a book bag"), they quickly warmed up to him. The local media coverage he's received often is the icebreaker. "A lot of them come up to me and ask if I'm 'the one' they saw or read about," he says. 
Bigony's late-in-life return to college comes naturally. His mother entered college in her 70s to try to earn her teaching certificate. "I told her, 'Mom, you're going to have to hurry. I think they retire teachers at about 60, and you're already 72.' But that didn't slow her down," he says. "A little bit of that is in me, I guess."