Getting their Act 2 together

Senior programs take on new identity

The Institute for Extended Learning’s popular “seniors program” is undergoing a name change. Seniors is out. Act 2 is in.

Pat Freeman, 68, has been the manager of the Community Colleges of Spokane seniors program since 1989. She’ll retire Friday. She’ll sign up for classes she never had time to take before, perhaps Pilates and an art class.

“Even though I have no artistic talent, I want to try it,” Freeman said.

In a recent interview, Freeman took a look back – and forward – at a program that encourages lifelong learning.

About the name change

The seniors program, begun in 1982, was originally open to men and women 60 and older preparing for retirement.

The protests against the name “seniors” arrived long before aging baby boomers expressed distaste for the term. Even Freeman’s late husband, Elmer, balked at the label.

“My husband was 71 when I signed him for a writing class. He (said) he was no senior. I said, ‘You have to go because I’m not going to give you a refund.’ He was in that class from 1991 to 2003, to the week before he died.”

Several brainstorming sessions produced the program’s new name, finally nailed down by the publications department.

“We wanted a name that would talk to the spirit of the senior,” Freeman said. “It stresses the active nature of seniors. That’s why we didn’t call it the final act.”

The age requirement for the courses was dropped four years ago, although the program continues to be popular with people ranging in age from their early 50s to mid 90s.

About the deeper connections

“This is a community (of students) that shares life experiences,” Freeman said. “Faculty and students check on one another. If anyone is missing from class a few times, people make sure everything is OK.”

In the popular writing courses, the stories of older citizens get written and then circulated in their families and the community. In 2001, the program published “Satin Gloves and Other Surprises” an anthology with work by 91 authors.

“When we published the anthology, there were seniors crying, they were so moved,” Freeman said. “Our purpose was to reveal to the community that seniors are creative and their words need to be heard.”

About greater lessons

As Freeman embarks on her own Act 2, she’ll carry with her the lessons the students taught her.

“I know seniors whose challenges are so great, I don’t know how they make it through an hour, much less a day,” she said.

“I learned that even if you are terminally ill, you can still live as if you’re not.”

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