The students' ages span four decades, from about 50 to 90, and the courses that engage their interest are equally varied--from delving into great books or the lives of once-great but now forgotten statesmen (think John C. Calhoun) to classical music studies, the role of women in the world's religions and "Bones, Stones and Pots: An Introduction to Archaeology."
They are members of the Johns Hopkins Evergreen Society, now celebrating its 15th anniversary as a noncredit enrichment program offered by the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education.
SPSBE dean Ralph Fessler, dean emeritus Stanley Gabor and other guests will join the members of Evergreen at a gala anniversary dinner, on May 19 in Homewood's Glass Pavilion, to recognize some of the people who have made the program an integral part of the lives of seniors who are far from ready for the proverbial rocking chair.
Founded in 1986 at Hopkins' Columbia Center, Evergreen has grown from 30 students and three instructors (including Richard Davies, a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union) to more than 550 students and a roster of instructors and lecturers. Classes now are taught in Baltimore and in Montgomery County as well as in Columbia.
Kathy Porsella, director of Evergreen since its inception, says that Dean Gabor began the program with the idea of serving the older adult. "Hopkins has programs for many ages--for young children, the Center for Talented Youth for high schoolers, the SPSBE Odyssey program of noncredit enrichment classes in the evenings and on weekends for working adults, but nothing was available during the day for retirees," she says. "Hopkins prides itself on serving the needs of the community, and the senior community is the one that Evergreen is designed to serve."
As Evergreen sprouted in Howard County, SPSBE looked for space in Baltimore and in 1991 opened a second location for the program, at the Grace United Methodist Church on North Charles Street, about three miles north of the Homewood campus. The program's enrollment more than doubled with the new location, Porsella says. In 1995, the program expanded again, to Hopkins' Montgomery County Campus in Rockville, and attracted 125 students its first year there.
"Evergreen provides both educational and social opportunities," Porsella says. "I've heard it said that people come in for the curriculum and stay for the socialization. I think that's largely true."
Now offering about 15 to 18 courses per 12-week semester in each location, Evergreen provides its members with an eclectic mix that includes studies in art, music, film, literature, writing, current events, politics, history, theology, philosophy, psychology, financial planning and--more recently--computer training.
"I think we need to put more emphasis on modern concerns such as technology and the environment if we're to attract younger members," Porsella says. "The so-called baby boomer generation is fast approaching retirement, and we'll need to interest them if we're to stay vital and growing."
This spring, the Baltimore courses, which meet for two-hour sessions once a week, included lectures on the revolutionary discoveries astronomers are making about the universe, illustrated by the latest pictures from space; a history of America's political parties; an exploration of Mexico's literary and cultural history; an analysis of the evolution of German opera, from Mozart to Strauss; and an examination of how the U.S. Constitution expresses the concept of law and justice.
Evergreen Society members produce their own publication, the Evergreen Journal, which comes out three times a year and features articles that are instructive--and revealing.
In the latest issue, Pearl Oxorn Mades, a former art editor of the Ottawa Journal who became one of Evergreen's first three instructors, writes that being associated with Evergreen "remains my all-time favorite teaching and learning experience.
"Why is this so? Because I believe that teaching is the ultimate learning experience and, since I have been learning as much as giving back what I have learned, I feel that, in a sense, I am as much a member of Evergreen as any other member, because we have all gained knowledge and otherwise enriched our lives by being a part of this program," writes Mades, who taught a course on 20th-century architecture last fall.
In an earlier issue, a member lovingly writes about a family heirloom--a silver coin-bedecked goblet that was made in 1926 in Breslau, Germany, and miraculously survived the Holocaust but now must be kept hidden from burglars. In other issues, a woman recounts tales of the strict upbringing in China of her aunt, whose feet had been bound when she was a girl in order "to restrict growth and impart daintiness." Another member recalls his harrowing, World War II internment in the Dutch East Indies, while another remembers lazy 1930s summers on Marley Creek with his boyhood friend Don, who would become mayor of Baltimore and then governor and comptroller of Maryland.
In addition to classes, Evergreen offers educational field trips to such places as Colonial Williamsburg, Va.; the Victorian enclave of Cape May, N.J.; the Eastern Shore's historic Chestertown; Philadelphia's Barnes Museum; and New York's Rose Auditorium. Trips to view wildlife--and to the theater--also are available.
The Evergreen Society's annual membership dues in Baltimore and Columbia are $450 for individuals and $400 for spouses; in Montgomery County, $400 for individuals and $350 for spouses. Dues cover the cost of up to six classes for each of the fall and spring semesters in Baltimore/Columbia or four in Montgomery County. Membership benefits include access to the university library system, field trips and preferred participation in university events.
For more information, call 410-309-9531 for Baltimore/Columbia or 301-294-7058 for Montgomery County or go to www.spsbe.jhu.edu/programs/noncred_programs.cfm and click on Evergreen.