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Determined Grandmother Inspires Pickens to Follow Suit at FCC



When Frontier Community College(FCC) alum Sarah Pickens was graduating from Fairfield Community High School in 2002, her 72-year-old grandmother was graduating from FCC. That’s right. Her grandmother, Patricia Johnson, decided at age 70 she would return to school to obtain her GED, and then went on to excel in collegiate level classes. Both ladies were very successful in their time at Frontier and have quite the story of their journey.

Born in England, Patricia survived the intense German “Blitz” bombing of Liverpool during World War II at the age of nine. School was put on hold for Patricia to help care for the house and her nieces, as her father had passed away when she was only two years old. In her free time, Patricia loved to read, especially Tolstoy.

Growing up, Patricia’s childhood best friend was Allan Williams. Beatles fans will remember Allan as their first manager and booking agent. Thanks to her connection, Patricia was lucky enough to watch the Beatles perform at a popular club they frequented, The Cavern Club in Liverpool.

Patricia eventually married her husband Frank and started their family of three children: Frances, Phillipe, and Peter. In 1964, the family moved to the United States near a family friend in St. Louis. Patricia began her career in the United States at Famous Barr at the makeup counter, specially trained by Max Factor. For many years she traveled all over the world, living in St. Louis, Maine, and Boston before landing in Fairfield, Illinois.

Frank developed cancer in 1994 and passed away after a three-year battle. Battling depression, Patricia’s granddaughter Sarah suggested that her grandmother take a literature class at Frontier Community College in 1998. Next thing Sarah knew, Patricia was enrolled in GED prep courses and successfully obtained her GED a short time later. That was not enough for Patricia, so she decided to enroll in college classes. Excelling with Academic Honors each semester and obtaining membership in the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society, Patricia graduated from FCC in 2002 as the student speaker at her graduation and the prestigious President’s Award winner.

 Following her college career, Patricia worked at the local Walmart as a cashier for some time and traveled to the Philippines and San Francisco.

The same year Patricia graduated with her Associate Degree from Frontier Community College, her granddaughter Sarah Reeves was graduating from Fairfield Community High School. Sarah sought out a college career after high school, but quickly decided it was too expensive for her at the time and joined the United States Navy in 2004.

Stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Aircraft Carrier in Norfolk, Virginia, Sarah served as an Information Systems Technician among more than 6,500 people aboard the carrier. After serving her time in the US Navy, Sarah moved back to Fairfield to start her own family. She married Bryan Pickens, and they have four children Davaney, 11, Collin, 10, Norah, 8, and Annabelle, 7.

Sarah longed to return to college, and decided she would use her G.I. Bill to help her do just that, once all of her kids were in school. Returning to college at Frontier Community College in 2013, Sarah quickly excelled in classes and became Student Ambassador during her sophomore year. Sarah kept busy at FCC as she was involved in Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society as a General Officer, was one of two Student Ambassadors, and served as a tutor. Her diligence in college was greatly recognized as she was on the CEO’s List three semesters, received President’s List Honors the fourth semester, received the Math Award, and also Phi Theta Kappa Awards. Like her grandmother, Sarah was also the President’s Award winner at her graduation where she obtained her Associate in Science and Arts Degree.

Sarah is now paying it forward as she is an adjunct faculty member at FCC, serves as a tutor, and is now the Phi Theta Kappa Advisor. She is continuing her education online through Capella University to obtain her Bachelor’s in Business Administration.

Deciding to come to FCC was not a hard decision for Sarah. “I have a family, so there’s no way I could have gone out of town. I needed to be able to stay in town and study. Going to FCC was great because I could take classes around the schedule of my kids while they were at school during the day, and then we were at home together at night. It worked out really well.”

Although Patricia passed away in March of 2016 at the age of 86, her success story and perseverance is one Frontier Community College will not soon forget. Her hard work and determination helped inspire her granddaughter Sarah to follow in her footsteps to create her own success story as she now shares her time and experience with students at Frontier Community College.   

Top: At age 72, Patricia Johnson received the President’s Award from President Dr. Michael Dreith in 2002.

Bottom: Sarah Pickens received the President’s Award from President Dr. Jay Edgren in 2015.

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