Clark College offers several classes specifically for those 55 or older

Learning at any age

David Fetkyo and his wife, Angel (not pictured) teach tai chi and qi gong classes to students 55 and older as a part of the Clark College Mature Learning program. Buy this photo

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Students learn the ways in which anyone can be an artist. This watercolor class is one of many courses offered at Clark College for those over 55 .

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Diane Hunter of Camas has been taking tai chi at Clark College Columbia Tech Center for a year. She enjoys the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and getting out to meet new people. On Friday, she volunteered at the Mature Learning celebration.

Learning never stops. That’s the message behind Clark College’s Mature Learning Program, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a party and several mini classes.

Those 55 and older enjoyed courses ranging from “Why is there sex? DNA and Human Evolution,” to “Anyone Can Be an Artist,” to “Paris in its Glory Days: 1850-1914.”

The birthday celebration also included a visit from college president Bob Knight, cake, and a keynote lunch lecture by Dr. Larry Sherman, a nationally recognized neuroscientist at Oregon Health & Science University.

“Mature Learning offers seniors the chance to take fascinating classes taught by brilliant instructors,” said Tracy Reilly Kelly, program manager. “We have a long legacy of excellence to celebrate. Persons who are retired or semi-retired are at a stage of their lives when they now have time for themselves, time to enrich their lives through ‘lifelong learning’ classes on topics that offer enrichment. It might be taking up painting, studying history, world religion or geography. They might seek fitness opportunities like tai chi or yoga.”

Mature Learning was established by Dr. Alfred Apsler, a retired Clark College professor, who saw a need for such courses.

Today, with help of volunteers and the Clark College Foundation, more than 28 classes are offered to more than 500 people at three campuses.

Diane Hunter of Camas has been taking tai chi for a year. She attended an open house at the Columbia Tech Center campus and was intrigued by the idea of trying a new fitness class.

“I do a lot of walking but when the weather is bad I really like coming to tai chi,” she said. “You get a good workout, and feel muscles you didn’t know were there. At my age, I didn’t want to try something like taekwondo, so this works out well.”

Hunter, 66, describes her instructor, David Fetkyo, as relaxed and friendly. Everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace.

“It’s for all abilities,” Hunter said. “And he is very good about watching out for people.”

She enjoys both the physical and mental aspects of the class.

“I feel like I’m getting out and getting exercise,” Hunter said. “And I’m also meeting new people. I hope more people get involved, and I’m really glad Clark College has a program like this.”

Hunter encourages others to give the courses a try.

“If you take a class and don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again,” she said. “But if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. There are so many courses, it’s enough for everybody to find something they like.”

Louann and Joe Wittler of Camas take a wide variety of what are referred to as “Afternoon Academics,” classes, where highly credentialed, often retired, instructors teach on topics ranging from history to religion to sociology to culture.

Louann, 72, has been taking the classes since she turned 55.

“The teachers are just superb,” she said. “There are a wide variety of classes. We especially enjoy Dr. (Donald) Miller. He is super. We also enjoy the different subjects and his teaching style.”

She added that being retired allows seniors the opportunity and time to pursue interests they may not have in their younger years.

“You really have the leisure of doing these things,” she said. “We enjoy the learning aspect and it keeps the mind active.”

Miller, who lives in Stevenson, has taught Mature Learning courses since 2002.

“I enjoy the privilege of interacting with bright men and women whose interests include some of mine,” he said. “Helps us all to fight off Alzheimer’s.”

He taught the Paris in its Glory Days class at the 40th birthday celebration.

“I’ve visited the dark side in some of my prior courses, so I thought I would teach something light today,” he joked.

Some prior classes include History of the Ottoman Empire, History of the U.S. Supreme Court, Protestant Autumn: Fading of the mainstream, and Clergy Sexuality.

“The one on the Supreme Court was the most interesting to research,” Miller said.

Reilly Kelly said the feedback from students on Miller’s courses and others is very positive.

“Our students love our program,” she said. “Whether they are long time, or have just found us, most people are amazed at the well prepared instructors as well as the chance to socialize with interesting people.

“Mature Learning’s number one goal is to continue our commitment to offering fantastic courses taught by highly credentialed instructors,” she continued. “We are always on the lookout for exciting new topics, that are culturally or educationally relevant to inquiring minds.”

She added that volunteers are vital to the program.

“We always need help in our classrooms with media and technology, office assistants and publicity help,” Reilly Kelly said. “Our goal is always to attract strong enrollments and bring as many courses as we can to an ever increasing public.”