A serious group, the students listen intently to the lecture. They take notes, ask questions and make comments.
Their gray and white heads belie their youthful exuberance.
Retired teachers, Boeing engineers and others from all sorts of backgrounds — what these people in their 50s through 90s have in common is a lifelong love of learning.
The Creative Retirement Institute, a self-sustaining program at Edmonds Community College, has nearly 400 members, most from Snohomish County, who take a variety of college-level classes throughout the school year.
On a recent Monday morning, Donn Charnley talked to his CRI class about the glaciers that carved the rugged faces of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges.
Charnley is a Shoreline Community College emeritus geology professor. He also taught at the University of Washington, where he earned his master’s degree, and for Seattle Public Schools. Charnley has been teaching his peers at the institute since 2003.
Taped to the wall of Charnley’s classroom at the Edmonds Conference Center are a map of ice-age floods, a table of geologic time scales and a rock chart.
His students can’t get enough. Many still hike and climb rocks. These are the people who insist on window seats when they fly so they can press their noses against the windows for glimpses of the landscape.
Now 85, Charnley said his Creative Retirement Institute students are the best he’s ever had.
“This is a teacher’s heaven,” Charnley said. “No grades, no attendance records, and these people — who have amazing life experiences and want to be here — are like sponges.”
For Bobby Pyles, 72, of Everett, it’s a student’s heaven too.
“I’ve been attending CRI classes each quarter for three years,” said Pyles, who is retired from the U.S. Army. “CRI keeps me occupied. It keeps me going and continuing to learn. I take primarily history and science classes, and I am learning stuff I never knew before.”
A benefit of the institute is the camaraderie, said longtime member Betty Bostrom, 91.
“It’s an incredible group of people,” Bostrom said. “I am just amazed at the quality of people we meet and the lasting friendships that we form.”
The Creative Retirement Institute had its start in the early 1990s when Edmonds Community College leaders John Terrey and Pam LeMay gathered together a group of retired people who were interested in classes and willing to put up some money to fund its start.
In the spring of 1993, the Creative Retirement Institute offered 14 classes, with 90 enrollments. By fall quarter there were 128 CRI members. For the current winter quarter, there are 965 class enrollments among about 375 people.
Now in its 20th academic year, CRI has an advisory board of 18, seven standing committees that plan curriculum, arrange for the instructors, keep the audio-visual equipment running, advertise and put on special luncheons.
More than 100 people volunteer to keep the program going, said Lynn Lagreid, coordinator for the program.
Annual membership dues are $60 per person or $105 for a couple. Quarterly memberships are $30. The classes, which have varying tuitions of up to $44, fill quickly and often have waiting lists, Lagreid said. Members who sign up for $110 worth of paid courses in a quarter can select a free class.
Registration is ongoing now for the spring quarter classes, which include: Adventures in Wine Pairing; African History Before the Europeans; The Birth of the English Sonnet; Einstein and Mozart: The Physics of Music; The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power; Latin American History: Pre-Colonial to 1810; Mental Health and Aging; Shakespeare’s “King Lear”; Shrinking the World: Air Travel and Adventure 1920-1970; and The Geology of Water.
Gretchen Johnston, director of community eduction and the conference center for Edmonds Community College, has high praise for the institute and its students.
“CRI is one of the best programs of its kind in the country, in part because of our volunteers,” Johnston said. “It is a marvelous program for our retired community.”
A brochure that includes the full list of classes that begin in April is available by calling 425-640-1830. More information, including about the CRI spring lunch and lecture on March 19, is available at www.edcc.edu/cri.