Golden Lopes opens more classes to older adults
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Peter Onni of Sun City West described his current situation at age 78:
He’d zipped through life gathering tales of high-flying business success, put up at the Ritz and made to feel indispensable, meeting with the chief and drawing a transmitter circuit to get hired on the spot or earning a seat in the president’s circle after killing it in the Midwest region.
He’d done well in electronics and computers, but when his spouse said, “I’m going to Sun City West. You can come along if you want,” he muttered, “I don’t want to go. Too hot.”
After a while, it became a quiet retirement. But Onni wanted to keep learning like he did long ago in college, when he took a language class and experimental psychology just because they sounded interesting.
Then last fall he heard about a luncheon.
“I believe,” he said, “seniors like free food.”
There at Grand Canyon University, he happily ate but also perked up when he heard about the GCU Golden Lopes, an educational program for older adults, inspired by a coach in the College Basketball Hall of Fame. In retirement, Homer Drew also moved to where it’s too hot 18 months ago and for the first time in his life didn’t have to shovel snow. But he thought there were deeper needs.
As we grow old, Drew knew, we need to exercise our body — and our brain.
Numerous research studies maintain the link between healthy aging and keeping an active mind. One recent study showed that after learning multiple skills the increase in cognitive abilities in older adults was like that of adults 30 years younger.
What better way than to keep learning in class? Drew had taken courses for older adults at Vanderbilt University and was inspired.
Onni was sold.
“I was blown away,” he said. “I wanted to venture out into something I never did before.”
Onni enrolled in How to Write a Memoir, one of six Golden Lopes courses for people age 55 and older that were taught on GCU’s campus last fall by faculty. (The lineup of seven new four-week classes starts Feb. 14 and registration is here.)
Onni had a lot of good stories to tell and set foot on GCU’s campus, buzzing with young people.
The chance for intergenerational contact is one thing Drew loves about the program.
“It’s really beneficial for our students to see older people still engaged, still learning, still attending a class, and for our older generation to see young people and know that the future is bright,” said Drew, a former Valparaiso basketball coach and father of GCU coach Bryce Drew.
“I love having it on the campus. There is a special energy. People are friendly. The weather is nice, and you get to walk and talk. And if they are in class on Monday, they can go to class and then go to Chapel.”
The older students, nearly 50 who attended everything from courses on health and cybersecurity to biblical studies and grandparenting, were excited. No grades, no credits to earn, no homework if they didn’t want to do it.
“But they wanted to do homework,” said Onni’s memoir teacher, Dr. Diane Goodman, professor of English at GCU. “They were so enthusiastic and very talented. And they seemed to like each other.”
Among the nine in her class was Onni, who sat in the front row, told jokes to the class and handed in some writing the first day of class.
“I had never done creative writing. Mine was pathetic,” he said. “But she looked at it and found all the good stuff. That just lit a fire.”
Goodman, a widely published writer, offered tips on translating ordinary experiences into meaningful non-fiction.
“She gave me techniques on how to express myself,” Onni said.
Drew even popped into some classes, and what he saw amazed him.
“It was wonderful to see their excitement. They didn’t have to take a test or earn a grade. They were here just for the pure value of learning,” he said. “And the professors volunteered their time because they enjoy the profession of teaching.”
The students traded phone numbers, did lunch, expanded their social circles.
“They all were coming from different places and different backgrounds,” Goodman said.
Retired middle school teachers or flight attendants, Ph.D.s and recovering alcoholics, church folk and businessmen.
“They had different reasons but had things that bound them together,” she said, including, “People who are retired are not dead.”
At first in her class, they were vulnerable telling their personal stories. But after they saw Goodman’s inviting approach, the writing took off.
“I was euphoric reading their material,” she said.
By the second week of class, Onni showed up an hour early.
“I’m going over what we had the week before,” he said. “I learned to produce descriptions to make the reader visualize what was going on.
“By the fourth class, if you’ve got something, you can try to publish. You know, I’m confident. I am going to try.”
He started with only a humdrum adjective and learned to put his life in perspective.
“I came out of my humdrum existence,” he said, “and began exploring new vistas.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
GCU GOLDEN LOPES
Monday classes: 9:30-11 a.m. Feb. 14 and 28, March 7 with Feb. 21 (Presidents’ Day) a take-home assignment.
- How to Write a Memoir
- Bible Study
- Legacy Financial Planning
- Book Club
- The Power of Film
Tuesday: 9:30-11 a.m. Feb 15, Feb. 22, March 1, March 8.
- The Brain: Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Wednesday: 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m. Feb. 16, Feb. 23, March 2, March 9
- Tech Savvy Seniors