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More Lessons to Be Learned in Life's Classroom

Seniors: It's give and take as older Minnesotans plug back into education.

June 30, 1998|JON JETER | WASHINGTON POST

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — The Cannon Valley Elder Collegium's "Hamlet" course is held at Northfield's Retirement Center. Eight seniors at a conference table pay rapt attention to George Soule, a white-haired, animated man who lectures at a rapid-fire pace on Shakespeare.

"His characters tend to be very complex," says Soule, a retired literature professor who is teaching the play to about eight seniors this quarter. "They're far deeper than many people I've known in real life."

Soule engages his students in a discussion of the play's opening verse. Virtually all of the students in the classroom contribute something to the dialogue. One of Soule's students is Marilyn Will, 59, a retired schoolteacher whose former students include Soule's daughter, now 31. Widowed two years ago, Will enrolled in two courses last quarter. She came back for more this quarter and brought along a friend, 81-year-old Jane Eckardt.

"I have always loved education from both sides of the desk," says Will, a small woman who first attended college 40 years ago. "I just came to class expecting to be filled up back then," she says. "Now I feel as though I have something to contribute to the class and to the discussion."

As she says this, an exaggerated grimace spreads across Eckardt's face. "It won't be any different for me," says Eckardt, who first enrolled in college in 1934. "I still expect to just be filled up. I'm dead between the ears."

Will smiles at her friend's familiar, self-deprecating brand of humor. The two women taught school together and have been friends for a quarter century.

"Our husbands were friends," Eckardt says. "We gave each other advice on our kids." She leans forward and lowers her voice. "We tried to figure out what was wrong with them."

During a break, Will asks Eckardt if she could pick up a copy of "Hamlet" for her. "I'll just shop for both of us, and you can lay the money on me later," she says to her older friend.

Eckardt pauses. "Did I remember to lay money on you for my registration?" she asks. "Yes, you did," Will reassures her.

their own evil ends.

"That gets to be a problem when you're 81," Eckardt says. "But really, I'm just here because I love Marilyn. I just love to be around her."

At his wife's urging, 66-year-old Donald Krause enrolled in "Cultural Conversations." On Tuesday evenings, he'll debate topics such as the role of an activist federal judiciary with his peers and a group of local high school students.

"This is fun," said Krause, a retired schoolteacher. "You know, most senior citizens aren't just waiting to die. We can actually discover a thing or two."

'I just came to class expecting to be filled up back then. Now I feel as though I have something to contribute to the class and to the discussion.'

Marilyn Will, retired schoolteacher, once again a student

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