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Jim Krulicki

At 73, Jim Krulicki refuses to let a dementia diagnosis stop him from reaching his education goals.

“Learning without all the pressures of having to do well for career purposes is just the pure fun of learning now.”

Online Learning Centre
Kincardine, Ontario

Area of Study
Bachelor of Arts

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Diagnosed with dementia at age 68, former NHLer earns the academic degree he always wanted

OHL fans of a certain age will remember the Kitchener-born-and-raised Jim Krulicki as a right-winger for the Kitchener Rangers in the late ’60s.

At the time, Jim was also working toward a bachelor’s degree. But when he launched his professional hockey career in 1969 — ultimately playing 41 NHL games for the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers — his formal education had to take a backseat.

Then came marriage, three sons, five grandkids and a 33-year career in financial services, but always in the back of Jim’s mind was the hope that someday he’d get the degree that was out of reach for so long.

Fast forward several decades and, even in the face of a serious illness, Jim’s hope remained alive.

The diagnosis changed most things in his life. He isn’t allowed to drive. He’s unable to assess risk. He occasionally makes dangerous choices, including the time he tried to swim out on Lake Huron to catch up with his jet-skiing grandkids and scared himself when he got into deep water.

“I have all the time in the world. I don’t have to worry about whether I get a good mark or not. I set myself a goal that if I don’t get an 80 I haven’t done well but that’s just the way I approach things.”

But Jim’s ability to think and reason is still intact, so the question became: How would he go about getting the seven courses he needed to graduate?

Having retired in 2011 and moved to Kincardine, his 2019 encounter with the local Contact North | Contact Nord online learning centre helped set him on the right path.

“I wasn’t sure how to go about taking courses and someone told me about Contact North so I wandered over one day with my son and we had a chat,” Jim says. “I wanted to have some freedom to be able to fit this into my timetable.”

With help to navigate all the options, Jim settled on online courses from the University of Waterloo. Brushing up on technology and using new programs on his computer made for a steep learning curve, but Jim was happy to get through his first course, and ended up with an 82.

He also took in stride the fact that his new colleagues were, in most cases, decades younger.

“I didn’t find anybody in my age range,” Jim says. “There were a number of people in their 50s raising families and looking to increase their education but the majority were in their 20s. I enjoyed their youthful enthusiasm. I would always try to draw them out and challenge them on why they would say certain things.”

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Despite the limitations Jim’s illness imposes, he’s determined to keep taking on new challenges.

He enjoyed his online coursework so much — graduating last year from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies — he’s decided to upgrade to an honour’s degree.

“It’s been such a good thing in relation to keeping my brain active and slowing down any of the situation that the doctors tell me about,” Jim says. “That was one of the big things when I was first diagnosed a number of years ago: The doctors said, ‘This is irreversible. We have no treatment for it. The best thing you can do is learn new things, so get your estate in order and do all those things and hope for the best.’ ”

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Jim’s experience reminds us that age doesn’t have to be a barrier to learning. In fact, he’s certain that what he’s doing is at least partly responsible for the disease not progressing as doctors thought it would.

“Learning is fun and you’re never too old to keep learning,” Jim says. “I give my wife credit. She was the one who did all the research and got me in front of the right doctors who encouraged me to do stuff. It’s worked out so far.

“One of the things I’ve really noticed is the difference between learning simply because you want to learn and trying to get a degree so you can get into a career — what a huge difference. When you’re in your late teens, early 20s, you’re trying to figure out who you are, what you want, make friends and socialize. You want to have fun and party. Then you’ve got all these courses you have to take that eat up your time and something’s got to give.

“I don’t have any of those issues. I have all the time in the world. I don’t have to worry about whether I get a good mark or not. I set myself a goal that if I don’t get an 80 I haven’t done well but that’s just the way I approach things. Learning without all the pressures of having to do well for career purposes is just the pure fun of learning now.