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Germanna Student Government Association President Jenny Stone works on a pastel of her son Daniel as fellow student Jodie Clowes looks on during a recent drawing class at GCC's Spotsylvania County campus.
Jenny Stone hasn't let major health issues keep her from her dream of becoming a counselor. She enrolled at Germanna three semesters ago and is now president of the school's student government organization.
By PAMELA GOULD
After two bouts with cancer, a massive heart attack, quadruple bypass surgery and three additional heart attacks, 40-year-old Jenny Stone has stared down her mortality.
"I realize tomorrow is not promised," she said. And with that fact ever-present, she's chosen to make the most of her time by going after her goals with determination.
"It's get up and go or sit down and die," said Stone, who lives in the Falmouth area of Stafford County.
"I want people to understand, when they have tragedies in their life, you can take them and get back up and have them as your reason for life."
Stone ran a catering business and relished the work, but the heart attack in 2008 that led to her bypass surgery put an end to that career.
Her doctor said the long hours and the heavy lifting the job entailed were too much for her heart.
That's what led Stone to chart a new course.
She enrolled in Germanna Community College three semesters ago and is now working to become a counselor so she can make a difference in others' lives.
She has overcome the initial fears and feelings of awkwardness that came with returning to school after two decades and now proclaims herself a "geek head," inseparable from her iPod, Kindle, laptop and cell phone.
When she started taking classes in August 2011, she discovered her instructors were close to her age, which helped ease the transition.
But she so successfully acclimated to college life that her classmates elected her Student Government Association president this year. She now interacts with every student group on Germanna's Fredericksburg Area Campus, which is off U.S. 17 in Spotsylvania County.
But with two sons the age of most of other students, she has had to rein in her instincts.
"As SGA president, it's been an even bigger challenge for me to be SGA president and not SGA mom," she said.
That maternal role isn't taking a back seat in every arena, however.
Before she went for open-heart surgery four years ago, Stone sat with her then-teenage sons to share her dreams for them, knowing she might never get another chance.
"The first thing I said was, promise me that you're going to finish school," she recalled. "Don't just have a job. Have a career. That was top on my list."
And in January, her two sons--21-year-old Daniel and 20-year-old Christian--will be attending Germanna with her.
They dread the thought of winding up in a class with their mother, she said. One wants to avoid the attention. The other doesn't want to compete with his mom.
But Stone said she's too enthusiastic about her studies to be distracted by her boys.
"There's something about the learning process that fires up your mind," she said. "I'm not just a learner; I consume."
Jenny Stone's goal is to become a marriage and family counselor focusing on helping police officers and their families deal with the stresses of a law-enforcement career.
She made that decision after conversations with a neighbor who struggled with what he saw on the job and whose engagement collapsed in the process.
Stone knows that getting the credentials she needs will mean earning a master's degree and that she'll be nearing 50 by the time she finishes, but that only sharpens her resolve.
"My career is going to be short so I need it to be good, so I don't have time to waste," she said.
Her instructors say she has the attitude to get her where she wants to go.
"She's got a lot of ability and a lot of ambition," said Ed King, an adjunct professor of art. "I like her tenaciousness."
He's aware of her medical challenges and said that makes her all the more impressive.
"You see people that just do nothing with their life and then she's got severe health problems and she's trying to do the best she can with what she's got," King said.
J. Gayle Wolfe, a psychology professor who runs the paraprofessional counseling program, said Stone's interest in working with law enforcement poses challenges, but with changes she's seeing in society, they aren't insurmountable.
People have grown increasingly accepting of the idea of seeking help to deal with life's stresses and look more on counselors as coaches, Wolfe said.
She's also seeing a lot more men come for help than in decades past.
Camille Mustachio, an English instructor, has seen Stone's health challenges firsthand, which deepened her respect for Stone's perseverance.
During the fall semester of 2011, Stone came to Mustachio before class one day and said she wasn't feeling well and wanted her to have her husband's contact information in case something happened.
Stone's premonition proved accurate. She had a cardiac event in class that prompted a 911 call and hospitalization. But Stone returned to class days later.
"She's sticking with it. She's not letting any obstacles stand in her way. It's inspiring," Mustachio said.
"Seeing her in the hall reminds me to remind other students to continue on their journey as well, without letting any obstacles stop them."
Whenever Stone comes to the end of her life, she hopes that's what people will remember.
"I want my sons to say, she did everything she wanted to do and she lived life to the fullest," Stone said.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
INSPIRATION is an occasional series about people who encourage others with their kindness, courage