World changes for oldest alumnus

By Lucy Properzio

In 1926, Abraham Kline stepped on campus as a freshman. He was pursuing a law degree, something no longer possible as an undergraduate.

But that is not the only change to Northeastern since Kline, the school’s oldest alumnus, studied in Boston.

Born June 7, 1907, Kline, who was also vice president of his class council, grew up in a society very different from today.

“These days, people don’t realize how bad times were back then,” he said. “People would do anything just to earn a dollar. I take pride in looking back and saying I survived all that.”

During the Great Depression, students often had to maintain regular jobs while taking classes, in contrast to today when many students work part-time or not at all while attending school, Kline said.

When Kline attended school, most students were older or married and had to worry about family life.

“I would say that only 20 percent of the class was composed of young fellows like me,” he said. While at Northeastern, Kline also met his wife of 62 years, Esther, who was a student at Simmons College.

The type of professors at the school has also changed, as professors then were generally members of their profession first and teachers second, he said.

“I had good instructors at Northeastern. However, today Northeastern has a full staff. It is set up completely different from when I was a student,” he said. “In the 1930s, things were haphazard. Practicing lawyers taught most of my classes. Those lawyers had great reputations and knew law very well. Despite the circumstances, we did learn a lot, no question about it.”

Graduate school was not a common choice for 1930s graduates, and Kline went straight to practicing law in Boston. He worked for more than 15 years on Beacon Street near the State House before opening his own law firm.

“I enjoyed law very much,” Kline said. “It was very interesting and I did very well at it.”

In 1945, Kline moved to Marblehead and opened a law office in Lynn, where he practiced until he retired in 1978. Kline practiced alone throughout his career, while today, most law firms consist of multiple lawyers, he said.

Kline enjoyed traveling frequently to Europe and the Far East with his wife. After retiring, he spent time painting portraits and landscapes.

“To be able to create a scene by taking a blank canvas was amazing,” Kline said.

Esther died in 1999 and Kline was later diagnosed with macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans over 60, according to the National Eye Institute, which prevented him from being able to drive. He now lives in assisted living at Whispering Knoll in New Jersey near his only daughter, Ellen.

Kline said despite his macular degeneration, he feels grateful for his nearly 100 years of life.

“I suppose when you get to be 100 you are supposed to feel special, but I don’t feel like it is any big achievement,” Kline said. “I am respected by many, but I’m just lucky to be able to keep breathing.”

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