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Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus
2310 Centennial Rd.
Salina, KS 67401

Because of you: Social work junior John Decker inspired by his children to pursue college

Decker FamilyDecker with his family, from left clockwise: Teagan Decker, son; Lindsey Decker, wife; Elizabeth Decker, daughter; and Owen Decker, son.

John Decker remembers the first time he set foot on the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus as a new student in the social work degree program. He was nervous, but these weren't typical freshmen jitters.

"I was afraid someone was going to ask me where my office is," he recalls.

Decker, with his deep, made-for-radio voice and burly beard, was starting college in his mid-thirties. It was a path his younger self – the same age as some of his current classmates – never would have considered. But now, Decker had three good reasons to overcome any anxieties and work toward his diploma: Teagan, Owen and Elizabeth.

A native of Solomon, Decker describes his teenage years as unruly. He didn't find enjoyment in academics and ended up dropping out of high school at 17. He went on to earn his GED when he joined the Army National Guard in 2001. Decker served for 16 years, working with multiple launch rocket systems and in logistics, and then turning his attention to recruiting. He also saw one tour of duty in Iraq.

One of the reasons Decker explored the social work program at K-State Polytechnic was the focus on helping people. He wanted to find a way to continue to serve, as he did in the military, and believed social work could give him that fulfillment. Another reason? He wanted to be a good example for his children.

"Not very many people in my family have graduated college and I wanted to show my kids that I can do it, and that they can do it too," said Decker.

A few years ago, Decker and his wife experienced a life-changing event with their middle child, and it would be another influence over his determination to go to college. At eight months old, Owen came home from daycare with his humerus – the long bone in the upper arm – broken. It was an excruciating time: seeing their child in pain, going through DCF investigations, and trying to figure out how to work and pay the bills in between.

The incident prompted Decker and his wife to start a fund in Owen's name with Saint Francis Ministries, where Decker's wife works, to assist other families who might go through the same thing.

"When you're in that situation, you have enough that you're dealing with, you don't need to worry about money for food, a hotel room, or a change of clothes," said Decker.

To date, the fund has raised around $7,000. It gives support to the family members of a child who is hospitalized with acute care, providing help with meals, lodging, toiletries, clothing and more. Working with his wife to shine a light on Owen's incident and create something positive out of it was another inspiration behind his choice of studying social work.

Decker's oldest child, Teagan, will graduate high school when Decker is ready to graduate from college. He says it's been fun having competitions with his son on who can maintain the better GPA. When he's not in class taking 15 credit hours, Decker is a stay-at-home dad. His goal is to become a school social worker so he can have holidays and summers off to spend more time with his children. And though his long-term goals include becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, he would also like to start a program that teaches life skills to both kids and their parents, such as healthy cooking, managing money, and safety skills.

Decker has come a long way from being a rowdy teen with no direction. He credits the military with bringing discipline and maturity to his life. His wife and her work in philanthropy is a major source of encouragement. He boasts about his instructors, saying they are full of industry knowledge and are always willing to help. And he's even gotten over being the older student – he is going to be the best man at one of his classmates' wedding. But it's mostly because of his three children that he had the determination to start his college journey and why he stays the course to walk across the stage at graduation.

"My kids are my life," Decker said with a smile.