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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 25, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 4
Reading (great books), Writing (memoirs) and...

Betty Downs, chair of the Evergreen Society curriculum committee, in the class she took last spring.
Photo by Will Kirk /HIPS

For 20 years, JHU's Evergreen Society has offered lifelong learning

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Jerry Mandelberg already had quite a full life before his retirement in 1987 from a 30-plus-year career at the Social Security Administration. He had served as a Navy corpsman in the South Pacific during World War II, practiced general law for 10 years, owned a laundromat and two bars, and found time to raise two children with his wife, Selma.

Since his retirement, Mandelberg has traveled the globe and devoted more time to photography, a beloved hobby. With a bushel of memories to share, Mandelberg in 1992 was attracted to a memoir-writing class offered by the Evergreen Society, a Johns Hopkins program designed for retired and semi-retired people. It's a class he never left.

"It's the sort of thing I always wanted to do but without this structure probably never would have gotten around to," Mandelberg said of memoir writing. "There is a lot to be said of handing down stories to your grandchildren and the next generation."

For 20 years now, the Evergreen Society has offered graduate-level courses for those like Mandelberg who want to explore subjects without the commitment associated with a degree or certificate program.

Evergreen was founded in 1986 by Stanley Gabor, then dean of JHU's School of Continuing Studies (now the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education), who modeled it after lifelong learning programs at UCLA and Duke. In its first year, the Evergreen Society offered six courses at Hopkins' Columbia Center and had 30 members (the program's term for students). Its mission has always been "to enhance the leisure time of semi-retired and retired individuals" by providing a diverse array of stimulating learning experiences.

Today, the program offers nearly 80 courses at three locations: the Grace United Methodist Church, located near the Homewood campus; the Columbia Center; and the Montgomery County Campus. This year, more than 600 people will enroll in courses featuring such topics as international relations, God, Ireland's heroes, Richard Strauss and the great American songbook, which is taught by Mandelberg. The fall 2006 session will also include the Evergreen staples: Great Books, Memoir Writing and Eclectic Reading.

Primarily lecture-based, the program additionally offers cultural field trips, such as an excursion to New Orleans for a jazz class or to a local museum for an arts course. Evergreen members also have access to the university's library system and computer labs.

The 12-week classes meet once a week for two hours and range in size from 12 to 200 members. To instruct its courses, the Evergreen Society draws upon faculty from Johns Hopkins and other area schools, in addition to Baltimore/Washington area experts and retirees such as Mandelberg, who has taught music and photography courses for 11 years.

Program director Kathy Porsella, who has been with Evergreen since its inception, said the participants come initially for the great curriculum and because they want to continue to learn. What keeps many of them coming back each year, she said, is that they feel part of something.

"There is a real sense of community here," Porsella said. "There is a lot of interaction, and our members are intellectually stimulated by the classes and each other. Often as you get older there are fewer opportunities for interaction for a variety of reasons, so we provide them with that opportunity."

Mandelberg said that what keeps him coming back, both to teach and to learn, is the caliber of people.

"We have a lot of bright folks here, and many of us share the same interests," he said. "They might have gray on top, but there is still very much something inside."

For more information, including fees for courses, or to register, go to or call 410-309-9535.


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