Robin Washington column: Learning because they want toLocal historian Tony Dierckins said he knew he had to be extra careful with the facts in his keynote speech for the University for Seniors fall convocation at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kirby Rafters on Saturday.
By: Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune
Local historian Tony Dierckins said he knew he had to be extra careful with the facts in his keynote speech for the University for Seniors fall convocation at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kirby Rafters on Saturday.
“Exactly,” said Dierckins, who spoke on “Duluth’s Lost Grand Stage Theaters.” “They’ve been there. They’ve lived through it.”
That meant he endured only minor questioning about his survey of the city’s theaters, from its first opera house to the NorShor, with some attendees wondering why he didn’t mention their favorite long-shuttered venue — until they rechecked the title of the talk.
“Yeah. He was right on. I thought he was including movies, but he meant stage theater only,” said Bob Goldish, a longtime partici-pant in the 50-plus continuing education program now going into its 25th year.
A retired physician, Goldish was reluctant to join US when his wife, Selma, signed up for courses in 1989.
“I originally thought when Selma said, ‘C’mon to University for Seniors,’ that ‘I’m retiring from a position of command. I’m going to go and weave baskets?’ ” Goldish said. “Well, it wasn’t that at all.”
Instead, he said, he found a peer-driven group, where many of the students also lead classes, including himself. Patricia Stoddard said she also was attracted to that dual role.
“I never had done teaching, and it was an empowering thing,” she said, describing herself as “almost 90.”
“I was doing gerontology, so we did a lot on aging,” she said.
If Dierckins’ audience knew a little about his subject, Stoddard’s was intimately familiar with hers.
“Exactly. We had a lot of interest in the classes. I had a lot of speakers, so I got confidence.”
US students also know how to party, with participant Beth Brown describing a Greek mythology class taught by UMD professor Eve Browning.
“The last day of class she had a Greek toga party at her home with all Greek food,” she said. “Some of the seniors wore togas.”
Top that, Animal House.
And that leads to a comparison to the younger variety of college seniors and what’s so special about this group.
I’ve taught courses at two East Coast universities and given lectures from Lake Superior College to Harvard’s Kennedy School. Most were rewarding experiences, but none more so than the classes I taught at US, where students are there because they want to be.
They also aren’t afraid or ashamed to talk about anything. Take the late Martha Alworth a few years ago, who I thought hadn’t been able to hear everything during a practicum about a racial flare-up (an antique dealer selling a Duluth lynching postcard) and a city management flap (the attempted sale of Duluth’s Tiffany windows.)
Just before the end of class, she piped up with a solution that blew us all away and had to have been heard, I’m willing to bet, by the people behind those decisions.
Most of all, it made us think.
“That’s what gets your personality out and makes you want to live again,” said Peg Osmundson, who said she resided at an assisted living facility once with little emphasis on exercising the brain.
Dierckins said he too noticed that quality at US.
“These people want to be there. It’s not a required class. It’s not a requirement of life,” he said. “I so wholeheartedly agree with that philosophy: That life is for learning.”
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com.