pitching in on everything from checkout to accounting, the store became the center of the family's life for more than 15 years.
In the early 1990s, Rybacki started volunteering at her daughter's school, a part-time gig that blossomed into a full-time job and rekindled a long-dormant desire to restart her own education. Eventually, with her family's support, Rybacki started taking a few courses at the Community College of Philadelphia, then cautiously shifted to a full-time schedule, including studio classes.
Then, in 2006, she took the plunge: She transferred to Tyler, where she renewed her exploration of printmaking (a Tyler department that recently earned a top-20 ranking from U.S.News & World Report for the first time in the school's history).
"Printmaking shares issues with other forms of art, like color and composition," Rybacki said, "but there are other processes that come into it — the wood grain, the chemical bath, the press, keeping the paper clean. I like the way you have to think ahead and be flexible."
Although plunging into her art comes naturally to Rybacki, adjusting to life as what administrators call a "nontraditional student" was more of a challenge. It's hard enough to fit in and find your way as a transfer when you're a 20-something undergraduate; for Rybacki, who was mistaken for a parent during her campus tour, it was daunting at times.
"It's hard," she admitted. "Stamina is a challenge; I can't stay up late like I used to. And as an adult, I have other responsibilities on my mind, like my kids, my part-time job at Ikea and the health of my parents. But I get so much energy from my classmates. They've given me new life."
They, in turn, have benefited from Rybacki's steadying presence. When a classmate died suddenly last month, some of her young, grief-stricken fellow students turned to Rybacki for support.
"Going back to school has been so rewarding," Rybacki said. "I feel so engaged. If there's anyone out there who's thinking about going to college at my age: Just do it!"