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Elderly Encouraged to Be Part-Time Teachers--and Students : At Florida School, Retirement Is an Education

September 06, 1987|PAT LEISNER | Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida, one of the country's most popular retirement havens, has for decades wooed the elderly with sunny days, a slower pace and challenging golf links.

But, today, retirees are being lured by an alternative life style that gives new meaning to retirement.

It's school.

A good example is the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, an innovative living-learning community tucked in the corner of a small private liberal arts college.

The academy is a gathering place for retired men and women who find it hard to mark time after a demanding career--achievers not dissuaded by aches and pains that betray their years.

Mentors to Undergraduates

They are assuming roles as part-time teachers, part-time students, lecturers and advisers. They are hosts for public forums and serve as adjunct faculty members, team teachers, career counselors, role models and mentors to undergraduates the age of their grandchildren.

And they are hitting the books again to keep in step.

Among the 115 academy members are a retired major general who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp and later was a strategist for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a former anesthesiologist who spent 2 1/2 years with the French underground; an ex-ambassador to the Soviet Union; a retired surgeon; a six-term congressman; an academician who served as overseas director for a university, a Rhodes scholar and a woman Presbyterian minister who at age 60 was arrested during a civil rights march in the South.

Others come from law, business, arts, humanities, science, government, economics, mental health and engineering.

From India to Sudan

They range in age from 48 to 93 and have lived and worked all over the world: the rice paddies of Asia; the classrooms of India, Lebanon and Nigeria; embassies in Iron Curtain satellites; medical facilities of Cambodia and Iran; the education ministries of Sudan and Pakistan, and the exhibition halls of Europe and Tokyo.

"I'm 77 years old and most of the time I feel like I did when I was 25," said retired surgeon Francis L. Browning, a grandfather of 13 who admitted: "Of course, there are certain times I feel like I'm 90."

Charles Smith, nearly 70, a retired economics teacher and investment banking consultant from Philadelphia, joined the academy in search of "a full and meaningful life, an association with people interested in keeping the mind alive. Golf? I could care less. Chasing a little ball around is someone else's game."

Mason Daly, a recently retired educator, was eager for carefree days but somewhat apprehensive. "I was moving into a community where I knew nobody."

New Circle of Friends

He met a mix of people, developed a circle of friends and says that "it's a delight . . . to walk across campus and have young people wave or walk into a cafeteria with them and sit down at ease."

Retirees pair with faculty members to teach a freshman course on Western heritage, which traces man from ancient times through the 20th Century. They do the same for a required senior course in Judeo-Christian perspectives, which sorts the ethical values of society.

Despite a slow start and a leery faculty, the program ballooned from three senior participants to 30 in four years.

To cover a broad range of views, the elders deliberately are coupled with professors from an opposite bent: a pacifist with a general; a scientist with a language and literature specialist.

New Perspectives

Students say the format gives them new perspectives.

"We were talking about a moment in the past, and here we had a lecturer who lived through that moment," said Tachaka Ray, 20, of Santa Monica, Calif.

The academy was founded in October, 1982, by Peter Armacost, president of Eckerd. The conservative church-related school, formerly Florida Presbyterian College, sits on 281 acres. It has an enrollment of 1,200 students from 40 states and 45 countries who pay an average of $8,220 annually and $3,000 more for room and board.

Armacost housed the academy at Lewis House, a waterfront building that once was the president's quarters and has an atrium big enough to seat 100.

His goal for the Academy of Senior Professionals was twofold: to provide a stimulating environment for retirees and to enrich the learning experience of undergraduates.

Campus Housing for Elderly

He envisioned a total living-learning community with campus housing for retirees on 78 acres overlooking Boca Ciega Bay. His blueprint for College Harbor, a progressive-care retirement center, included 290 apartments and 60 skilled nursing beds. He also planned 480 condominiums.

However, the academy's early growth did not match the lofty predictions. Today, the health care center is partly opened but not restricted to academy members. The condos have not been built yet.

Five years ago, Armacost tapped Leo Nussbaum, retired president of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to get the academy off the ground.

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