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Stories from the Myrtle Beach Sun News
by Caroline Wright

Lifelong learning
October 21, 2000

"Love is lovelier the second time around,
Just as wonderful with two feet on the ground,
It's that second time you hear your love song sung,
Makes you think, perhaps,
That love, like youth, is wasted on the young."

It's a beautiful autumn afternoon, perfect for golf or gardening. But this day finds a small group of people in a classroom setting on the stage of the Wall Auditorium. They're here for the final session of "Hollywood's Golden Era of Movie Musicals," a class presented by Coastal Carolina University's Division of Extended Learning and Public Services.

As the instructor vocalizes in a rich baritone, accompanying himself on the small upright piano, several students sing along, smiling wistfully at the sweet old lyrics. One of them, a silver-haired woman in shorts and a t-shirt, takes notes. "Written by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen," she scrawls. "Sung by Bing Crosby in High Time 1960. Nominated for Oscar."

A Variety of Teachers

George Devens, a retired studio musician who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand, is having a grand time teaching this class.

"It's a pleasure to talk with people who love the same things I love the old movies and musicals," says Devens, an animated, enthusiastic man who just celebrated his 69th birthday. "I was thrilled that these people were curious about them, too."

This is Devens' first semester as an instructor for the Extended Learning program. 40% of the program's instructors are CCU faculty members, according to Audrey Johnson, coordinator of the Lifelong Learning Society. The remainder are recruited from the community.

Recommendations for curriculum often originate with the members themselves. "This is a member-driven organization," says Rocky Cartisano of Conway, a retired executive with Lucent Technologies who is now president of the Society's advisory board. "We're open to suggestions, and there are plenty of people from the faculty at Coastal and retirees in the area with a world of experience and the ability to teach."

Initially called Third Quarter on its creation in the late 1980s - "Your first quarter is your growing-up stage, your second quarter is your career stage, and your third quarter is your retirement stage," explains Johnson the Lifelong Learning Society was reformatted in 1996 with 112 students. In 1998, Horry Telephone Cooperative donated a 12-station computer lab to the society; the Jackson Companies provided a mobile classroom; and Hall Development donated renovation funds.

Through the Extended Learning program, the Society provides adults with opportunities for intellectual stimulation and cultural and social growth. Last year the Society received the Exemplary Model Program award from the Network for Older Adult Learners of the Association of Continuing Higher Education (ACHE).

Membership costs $25 per year and runs from August through July. Benefits include checkout privileges at the library, free admission to all sporting events, and free or reduced admission to selected events at Wheelwright Auditorium.

A Variety of Classes

Curious students can find a variety of intriguing subjects in the course catalogue: art, finance, foreign languages, history, music, writing and computers, a popular field of study.

"Right now, we have 180 classes; about half are computer classes," says Audrey Johnson. A new series will begin next week; it includes Intro to Computers I & II, Exploring the Internet, and Web Page Building.

"I'm in the beginner's class right now," says Johnny Creel, of Conway, a retired Horry County judge. "My wife got involved with working on computers for church. She was having so much fun that I decided to share it with her!"

Carol Rose taught business education in Connecticut before retiring to Murrell's Inlet; she now teaches several computer classes for the Society. "Some of the students have been given computers by their children; some are just curious. A percentage want to keep their marketable skills up to date. If they take the two introductory courses, you see such a difference in 10 weeks. Their confidence level increases so much!"

The many course offerings include a watercolor class with Susan Duke, noted area artist and gallery owner, and a class on the German legacy in music taught by Dr. Mike Gilbert, CCU professor and trumpeter with the Long Bay Symphony.

All classes are non-credited and held during the day; the fee for most ranges from $25-$55. Classes are held at four locations: CCU's Conway campus; in the North Myrtle Beach area (at NMB High School and at a conference room in the Sleep Inn in Little River); Webster University in Myrtle Beach; and the HTC building in Murrell's Inlet. Two-hour sessions are held once a week for each class, for a duration of 4 to 10 weeks.

Courses aren't taught strictly in classroom settings, however; day trips to Conway, Brookgreen Gardens, Southport, and Georgetown are included in the Fall session. The Society is sponsoring trips to Spain and Venice, as well.

"Last year we had a field trip to Fort Sumter with a class on the Civil War," remembers Judy Fontana, director of program development services. "The average age of the people on the trip was 82!"

A Variety of Students

Rosemary Josefek of Garden City has taken many classes in art, history, and business; like many students, she attends classes with her spouse. The retired engineer from Massachusetts says the Chinese history classes helped her prepare for her 1999 trip to Japan, Korea, and China; many students in the class had traveled extensively in the Orient.

"Seniors bring so much background to a class," she exclaims. "We took a class about D-Day, and we had classmates who had gone ashore in the first waves!"

Audrey Johnson estimates that 75% of Society students are not native to the Grand Strand. "About 40% of our members in the Spring session are snowbirds," she adds. "Many ask us to mail brochures to their other homes."

The program has come a long way in a few short years. Over 900 students enrolled for the Fall 1999 Spring 2000 sessions; Johnson expects a small rise in enrollment for this school year. The Spring 2001 term begins in January.

Classes are designed for mature adults, but membership isn't restricted to a certain age group. At 16, Kristin Burns is a home-schooled Myrtle Beach teen planning a career on Broadway. Though other students in the movie musical class were old enough to be her grandparents, Burns had a great time. "They were so nice, and they took me right in," she comments. "I loved that class, and I learned a lot!"

George Devens hopes to return for the Spring semester to teach two classes for the program. Naturally, they'll be classes with a musical theme. Devens began his career as a teacher, and is delighted to punctuate his instruction with a lyric from an old showtune, in lieu of a note scribbled on a chalkboard. "The word I got from most of the students was, 'Thanks for the memories!'"

For more information on the Lifelong Learning Society, please call Audrey Johnson at 349-2544.

Caroline Wright is a freelance writer. She can be reached via e-mail at c@wrightforyou.com or by phone at 347-5634.