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History Lesson: Seniors go back to school

Djamila Grossman/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Carol (left) and Maurice Magee are students of the Tin Pan Alley class, where they listen to songs and talk about their history. The class is put on by SAGE, a UA affiliated organization that offers classes for seniors.
By Djamila Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 17, 2005
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Sometimes it takes almost a whole lifetime before it becomes fun - to go to class and learn new things.

Surrounded by thousands of youngsters, the UA hosts Seniors' Achievement and Growth through Education under its wings.

SAGE, as the name suggests, is a place for men and women 50 years and older who wish to learn new things just for the sake of learning.

The 250 to 300 people who participate in SAGE have already made a living in the "real" world, have fought in wars, have saved lives and have raised their children and grandchildren.

"We have doctors, lawyers, judges, CEOs, teachers, surgeons, everybody from all walks of life," said Don Phillips, membership chairman of SAGE.

SAGE stays self-sufficient because the members organize the classes. The members decide what interests them - subjects ranging from history to health to current events - and someone with sufficient expertise will prepare the lectures, Phillips said.

"Whenever one or two people think they want a study group or discussion - boom - you've got a class," Phillips said. "And that's what makes SAGE so great. They're drawing on personal experiences. Been there, done that."

SAGE formed about 16 years ago with a handful of people who were interested in continuing education for seniors, and they eventually became affiliated with the UA and the Office of Continuing Education and Academic Outreach, Phillips said.

Operated by a board of 12 directors, the nonprofit organization grew to its current membership body. About 95 percent of the members are retired, Phillips said.

"I love it, I love the interactions, it's fun," said Cecilia Maitz, one of the newest members of SAGE.

Maitz, the mother of two daughters and grandmother to three grandchildren, said she joined SAGE to keep learning and to meet new people.

Phillips said seniors are more relaxed about the classes because they have already made their living.

This eradicates most of the pressure, he said.

"Young students have to deal with making a life, whereas seniors only have to worry about staying healthy," Phillips said. "To me, and for a lot of us, it's just a relaxing and fun learning experience. Nobody is in heat, the hormones aren't flying all over the place."

Mary Ogren joined the program three years ago, and said she really likes the learning atmosphere compared to her first time in college.

"There are no requirements," Ogren said with a big smile on her face. "There's no test and everyone is enthusiastic."

Ogren's three classes this semester are Tin Pan Alley, Steinbeck and Let's go to the Movies, she said. After reading John Steinbeck in college, she is still familiar with the material and can find a new way to access it.

"I have a lot more experience behind me. Maybe I can even be more critical," Ogren said. "It's wonderful. We're learning about things we never knew about before."

Phillips said he hopes more UA retirees will join SAGE in the future because the UA is welcoming to its older students.

"The university accepts us very, very well. They are terrifically supportive of us. We can't speak highly enough of them," he said.

Jerry Hogle, vice provost for instruction, said he is supportive of SAGE.

"SAGE is an excellent example for what an active senior group can do," Hogle said.

The UA is a land-grant university that supports research and community outreach, and Hogle said it is the UA's obligation to support projects like this one.

In the future, Hogle plans to expand the program to include the Elderhostel, which is a national organization for senior education and travels, he said.

"We're very proud of the opportunity. It shows that we're willing to provide outreach and education to seniors," Hogle said.

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