While walking briskly to class, Reggie Voyce trails her turquoise rolling backpack behind her as she adjusts her glasses and pulls back a wisp of stray gray hair. Though clearly not your average student, she blends right in.
As she walks into her classroom, she chooses a seat, unpacks her things and asks her neighbor how her day has been. You’ve heard smiles can be contagious, but with Voyce, they always are. She engages the other student in a conversation, but mostly listens with shining eyes as the student talks about her day.
Although 57-year-old Voyce radiates a peaceful, happy countenance, her face belies the difficulties she has faced; namely, a decades-long desire to return to BYU and get a degree. After losing her husband Bruce to a cancer they had been battling for nearly 14 years, Voyce made the choice to graduate from college and become self-sufficient — something she has been yearning to do since she left the “Y” in 1978.
- Student Reggie Voyce has returned to BYU to finish her degree.
“I had always wanted to come back to school; I had always wanted to finish,” she said. “I was very worried about the cost and my age, but it’s important for me to be self-reliant as we’ve been counseled to be.”
Being an older student does not come without its hardships, the greatest of which is memory. Having to read and re-read and re-read would frustrate anyone, but Reggie does not wallow in self pity. Instead, she raves about the younger students.
“They’re very patient with me; they’re very kind,” Reggie said. “I think a lot of that encouragement and that spirit of accepting older students is part of our LDS mentality that education isn’t just for the young and it isn’t just for those that are starting to work. It’s a lifelong experience.”
To finally be back at BYU and participate in all an education has to offer is bittersweet, for Voyce is walking down an unpaved and wide-open road to her future, yet leaving behind a man and a life she loved.
“Although Bruce is no longer a part of her life, physically, the benefits and growth that come through marriage have remained constant, because of her willingness to learn and adapt to life’s changing landscape,” said Melanie Collura, a family friend. “This is not to say that she has not suffered through days of darkness and longed for freedom from her grief, but she has remained faithful. Healing and renewal has begun to take the place of loss and pain.”
Loss and pain were not what she expected when 19-year-old Reggie married Bruce 34 years ago. Foregoing her final year at BYU was a decision triggered by the loss of their first baby and a mutual decision to begin their family. Four children later, Reggie and Bruce were on the road to a seemingly long and happy life together.
That was when the cancer struck.
At the young age of 46, Bruce was diagnosed with paraganglioma cancer. The doctor warned that Bruce needed to slow down or the stress from his start-up business and two other jobs was going to kill him.
“The General Authorities have told us we need to simplify our lives,” Reggie said. “The doctor told us, ‘You’re burning the candle from both ends. How long did you think the candle was going to last?'”
Even after intense treatments and radiation, the cancer proved relentless. It eventually took away Bruce’s ability to walk. The couple moved to Reggie’s hometown in Oregon to find peace. They planted an orchard and a garden, and Reggie became his full-time caretaker.
“It was no surprise that Reggie engaged in an exhaustive and tender search to be a support to Bruce as cancer overtook his body,” said Kimberly Rhodes, a family friend. “Reggie loves with all energy of heart, mind and body. Sometimes it is detrimental to her health and well-being. … This gift is part of what makes Reggie extraordinary.”
Despite Reggie’s constant care and devotion in aiding Bruce with everyday tasks he could no longer do, rushing him to doctors’ appointments and hospitals, and trying to keep up their home, yard, and finances, Bruce passed away just after his 59th birthday. The period that followed for Reggie was the most challenging of her life.
“I was physically and emotionally exhausted after Bruce passed away,” she said. “My whole adult life I had spent with him, taking care of him and being a companion. I was now no longer anyone’s companion.”
After 21 months of regaining her strength, Reggie could not ignore the pressing feeling she had to return to school. After years of caring for her family, she felt it was time for her to fulfill her long-standing desire.
“I felt very strongly that I was supposed to come back to the ‘Y’,” she said. “It was the difference between taking on a minimum wage job and living below the poverty line for the rest of my life, and having a career where I could take care of myself.”
It was a long time coming, but worth every sacrifice.
“She has always sacrificed for her family and others,” said Mary Pettijohn, a family friend. “Reggie gave everything she had to take care of [Bruce] and help him in every way she could. I know that her strength in the Lord was the only way she could handle this overwhelming challenge. [Even after all that], she continues to sacrifice all that she has to help others.”
Although she needs her degree and career to live, Reggie refuses to put service on the back burner.
“I cannot do as much as I want to do right now because I simply don’t make the money to,” Reggie said. “When I have a career and I’m making more money, I can give more.”
Reggie’s positive attitude toward life, learning and service has impressed those around her, especially the professors who witness firsthand the 100 percent effort she gives in all she does.
“I was so impressed with Reggie’s commitment to learning and completing assignments in the best possible way,” said Dr. Quint Randle, a communication professor who taught her during spring term. “I really respect older students who come back to finish.”
In returning to complete her education, Reggie experimented with several classes to find her niche. Her desire for a more relaxed lifestyle, coupled with her love of nature and service, led Reggie to choose recreation management and youth leadership as her major.
She hopes to work for a nonprofit, such as the Boy Scouts or Red Cross, or work for the parks system.
Learning is something Reggie does not take for granted, as she has waited for decades to be where she is today.
“Reggie is one of the greatest women I have ever known,” Rhodes said. “She empathizes and steers me in the direction of self-respect and Christ-like behavior. I would take a bullet for her any day and be glad to do it. After that, I would probably still be indebted to her.”