Carson City resident and Navy veteran Ben McCulley has helped to develop several of his city’s longstanding facilities and parks, earned licenses to set up manufactured homes and even built his own home.
Now at 91, thanks to the help of a longtime local friend and experienced educator, he’s finally received something he always had intended to achieve before he entered the service: his high school diploma.
McCulley, born May 11, 1931, in Los Angeles, was raised working on his father’s dairies and milking cows daily along with his sister in Van Nuys and in the San Fernando Valley. They would move from Los Angeles to Missouri and back, with his father making several purchases of dairies in Gardena and Bakersfield.
McCulley attended Bakersfield High School and should have walked with the Class of 1950 but he never finished his studies.
“I didn’t graduate because I lacked half a unit in social sciences,” McCulley said. “I really wasn’t a very good student because I was always tardy; I was always working on the farm.”
He entered the Navy in March 1951 and worked on tugboats on San Francisco’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard. To become specialized for certain firefighting skills to operate some of the boats as an emergency medical technician, he was sent to a school in San Diego. Eventually, he was put in charge of the engines that drove the ships, he said. His service took place during the Korean conflict.
McCulley moved back to Carson City in 1970 where he became a superintendent in construction, working for several years in the trade in contracting and working on a variety of local business and park projects well known in the area. He retired at age 67 to manage his health and continue attending church, but he still never finished his high school education.
But thanks to his long-time friend and neighbor, Carson City School District’s former superintendent Richard Stokes, McCulley was able to finish a lifelong goal of finishing his diploma from Bakersfield High School, which belongs to California’s Kern High School District, which today includes more than 19 comprehensive high schools, five continuation schools, an adult school and several special education site and overall serves more than 42,000 students.
McCulley, right, received his high school diploma from Bakersfield High School in California with the help of his friend, former Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes.
“I tried several times (to finish) but never got any place,” McCulley said. “I talked to Richard and he says, ‘Maybe I can help you out with that.’ ”
Stokes, who retired from CCSD in June, visits McCulley as often as he can and helped make the connection with BHS.
“The folks with Bakersfield were really good,” Stokes said. “They thought it was a real human interest feature. He wanted to be recognized as a high school graduate, and all they needed was a little information.”
Stokes originally set out to help McCulley looking at Nevada’s requirements to assist veterans through the Department of Veteran Services. The Nevada Legislature in 2003 passed Assembly Bill 72, or Operation Recognition, allowing school districts to issue standard diplomas to veterans who have served in the armed forces during World War II through the Vietnam War between Sept. 16, 1940, and May 7, 1975.
Stokes was uncertain if California might have a similar program but said it did and under certain circumstances, the state would honor veterans’ academic credentials.
“They considered his situation, and they agreed and said that Ben has had a fulfilling life,” Stokes said.
McCulley had sent off his transcripts to Bakersfield, and Stokes said he had taken postsecondary classes from two community colleges to finish off the final credits he lacked. BHS also sent him some “school swag,” including a sweatshirt, T-shirt and hat with the school’s Drillers mascot, which Stokes said was very thoughtful.
“That along with his veteran service, they thought he deserved to have his high school diploma,” Stokes said. “They sent that to him in the first part of October. And they gave him credit for being in the class of 1950. They sent him a really nice letter thanking him for his service. … And Ben was delighted, as were all of us. We’re very proud of him and all the good things he’s done for our community.”
The letter, signed by BHS Principal Ben Sherley, states, in part, “I would first like to thank you for your service to our country. It is sacrifices like yours that make our country the absolute best in the world. Secondly, it is my honor to award you your Bakersfield High School diploma. Although it is later than expected, it is nonetheless a great accomplishment of which you and your family can be proud.”
McCulley said there are multiple generations in his family by the name Ben starting with his father all the way down to his great-grandson, and he said felt great about making his goal.
“(My family) thought it was kind of late coming, and they wondered why,” he said smiling. “I wanted to do this for years. I was never able to get through to the right people down there, but with Richard in his experience, it took him a while, too.”
Stokes said he enjoyed helping McCulley.
“It’s been good for me, too,” he said.