A Lot to Learn

More and more Main Line seniors are going back to school.

“What am I going to do?” That was the question Morris Barron of Wynnewood asked himself when he retired in 2000. A University of Cincinnati Law School graduate, Barron, 75, had carved out an impressive niche for himself in the steel business, working in Pittsburgh, London and Philadelphia. So when he heard about the University of Pennsylvania’s Senior Associates Program, he thought, “Bingo!”

The program allows seniors to audit up to two courses per semester at Penn’s College of General Studies for just $210 per course. That’s quite a bargain, considering undergraduates pay more than double. “It’s fascinating to sit in with very bright kids,” says Morris, who has audited classes in European and Russian history, Middle Eastern diplomacy and terrorism, and more. “Auditors are supposed to be silent observers; even though you’re a genius, you have to keep your mouth shut.”

Main Line School Night's Martha Goppelt holds court.Besides deepening his understanding of world events, Morris enjoys the social aspects of the Senior Associates Program. “You meet people from all walks of life,” he says. “We have a seniors group that gets together for luncheons with guest speakers, and we raise money for the university.”

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Morris isn’t alone. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 41 percent of adults over 50 opt to continue their education. Whether brushing up on their French or putting a brush to canvas, today’s seniors are a class act.

Few adult education programs in the country can compete with the variety and quality of courses offered by Main Line School Night. With more than 50 locations from Philadelphia to Paoli, MLSN attracts over 6,000 adult students per semester to its affordable day, evening and weekend courses. Most already have a bachelor’s degree, but many have Ph.D.s, M.D.s and law degrees. The majority are baby boomers who aren’t going to take retirement sitting down. They’re jump-starting new careers, expanding their skills and seeking out others who share their passions. From the molecular (“The Critical Role of the Enzyme IDO in the Proliferation of Cancer”) to the convivial (“Beer Tasting at the Oakmont Pub”), MSLN’s catalogs can be as tempting as a box of Godiva chocolates. Where other than the Main Line, could you find a course titled “Living Well on $50,000 to $90,000 a Year”?

One of the longest running and most popular classes at MLSN is its book group, which has been meeting Tuesday mornings at the Creutzberg Center in Radnor for almost a quarter century. “Twenty-two years in the same class. Doesn’t that speak for itself?” says Judith Zalesne of Bryn Mawr. “I love everything—and everyone—about it and regret having to miss a session.”

Forget Oprah’s Book Club; these folks prefer the deep end of the pool. Rest assured they aren’t afraid of Virginia Woolf—or Franz Kafka or Machiavelli, for that matter.

“This is a group who took assignments seriously, who grew to care about each other and who deeply respected and admired our teacher,” explains Zalesne.

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When the group’s founder had a stroke and could no longer teach, the class refused to disband. “We were fortunate to find Bob Regan, a retired Penn professor, and Martha Goppelt, retired head of Agnes Irwin’s English department,” says Zalesne, who herself has a master’s degree in education and formerly taught high school English.

The book group is “a place of laughter, lightning wit, deep-felt truths, unexpected challenges,” says Goppelt. “I’ve found a congenial place where I can engage in the sport I love most—reading and exchanging ideas.”

Co-teacher Regan is equally enthusiastic. “I had the good fortune to teach very bright students through my whole career—particularly my grad students at Penn,” he says. “But I never had students as well-read and as inquiring—students I can count on to teach me something I don’t know every session.”

That’s quite an accolade coming from a man who received his Ph.D. from Berkeley and was a Fulbright lecturer at Montpellier. “Martha and I discovered we were in the same Chaucer class at Harvard in 1951,” says Regan. “When we announced that fact to the class, two of the regular members said they were there with us.”

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You don’t have to crack a book or be a member of MENSA to sign up for Patricia O’Halloran’s art classes at the Wayne Art Center and through MLSN. But you must be willing to tackle a naked canvas and similarly attired model. “I grew up in Africa, and nudity was the norm,” says O’Halloran, who brings a skeleton to class before the live model. “I start with the basics and discuss materials and technique. Students like the fact that I assume they’ve never painted before.”

O’Halloran teaches 15-week courses in “Painting for Beginners” and “Painting the Figure” at the Creutzberg Center. Working in oil and watercolor, her students dabble in still life, abstract, figures and landscape. She welcomes those without experience and who are physically challenged. “My favorite student was a former neurosurgeon who had Parkinson’s disease,” she says. “He was determined to succeed.”

While all colleges on the Main Line host special events open to the community, Rosemont College’s continuing education program offers a series of daytime lectures, luncheons and day trips presented by experts in a wide variety of subjects. “Our coffee lectures are just $15 and our luncheon lectures are $25,” says Jaime Radomski, director of non-credit programs at Rosemont. “We host a kickoff event at the start of the term so perspective students can meet the speakers and each other.”

For intellectual day-trippers, Rosemont provides one-time luncheon lectures. In spring of 2007, participants embarked on a virtual tour of Joseph Bonaparte’s magnificent 1,800-acre estate in Bordentown, N.J., hosted by Patricia Tyson Stroud, author of The Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon’s Brother Joseph. Want to explore an English country house without going through airport security? Mary Schnabel, former docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, offers a “coffee lecture” slide show of the lavish lifestyles of British aristocracy from the 16th through 20th centuries.

Those ready for a deeper commitment might want to try Rosemont’s longer sessions—like the three-week digital photography or six-week philosophy classes.

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Adult Education Programs: Fast Facts

• Main Line School Night has day, evening and weekend classes at locations throughout the Main Line. (610) 687-0460, mainlineschoolnight.org.
Rosemont Forum of Rosemont College offers non-credit lectures, luncheons and day trips on weekdays. (610) 527-0200, ext. 3102; rosemont.edu/ncp.
Senior Associate Program of the University of Pennsylvania affords opportunities for senior citizens to audit day and evening courses offered through its College of Liberal and Professional Studies. (215) 746-6907, sas.upenn.edu/lps/senior.
Bryn Mawr College boasts a full calendar of events open to the public, including its Distinguished Writers Series, Canaday Library Lectures and Performing Arts Series. (610) 526-6520, brynmawr.edu.
Villanova University provides non-credit and credited courses through their Continuing Studies Program. (610) 519-4310, villanova.edu.
Wayne Art Center offers art and music classes for all levels, plus lectures and trips. (610) 688-3553, wayneart.org.
Main Line Art Center in Haverford features a wide range of art classes, lectures and trips. (610) 525-0272, mainlineart.org.
Peoples Light & Theatre Co. in Malvern offers acting classes for beginners and experienced students. (610) 647-1900, ext. 116.
Viking Cooking School in Bryn Mawr offers a delicious array of cooking classes, including special “Ladies Only” events. (610) 526-9020, vikingcookingschool.com.
Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood presents a scholarly “Judaism, Christianity and Islam” lecture series in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania. Open to the public. (610) 649-7800, mlrt.org.

7 Fun Courses at Main Line School Night

Evening Canoe Trip with Dinner: Paddling and eating under the stars with Tom Pasaocello, director of the Great Valley Nature Center.
Curtis Institute: Conversation, Wine & Opera: A student recital followed by wine, cheese, dessert and discussion with Curtis Institute faculty.
Stand-Up Comedy: Radio personality and producer Paul Solari leads a laugh-a-minute workshop with guest comedians and student performances at a local comedy club.
Fitness Over 50: Safe, gentle exercises to strengthen and tone muscles, burn calories and prevent osteoporosis.
Polynesian Dance: Nothing lifts the spirits and shapes the hips like dancing the hula. (Great for men who want to meet upbeat women.)
Argentine Tango: The perfect class for couples who want to get “up close and personal.” No experience necessary.
Wine & Chocolate: Learn how to match chocolate desserts with the wine they complement. (Don’t think calories—think antioxidants.)

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!