Oak Park residents fuel their curiosity at 'Hawthorn U'

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 10, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY – Residents at Oak Park, a retirement community off Enon Church Road, settled in Sunday afternoon for their first class at the “University of Hawthorn.”
Catawba College President Brien Lewis got the 51 registered students off on the right foot, reminding them to never stop learning.
As Lewis described it, the secret to a good education is having an appetite for it. The curiosity to learn keeps you young, vibrant and engaged, Lewis said.
Lewis happened to meet and see the artwork of 92-year-old Katherine Ledbetter, who didn’t start painting until she moved to Oak Park.
Ledbetter, a retired school teacher, said afterwards, “I’m always interested in learning. I haven’t just gotten in my rocking chair and sat there.”
Martha Hopkins agreed. “We’re fortunate to have something like this,” she said of the University of Hawthorn, whose “fall term” will cover four weeks.
“You learn every day.”
The idea for the University of Hawthorn, named for Oak Park’s parent company, emerged from a brainstorming session held this past April among Hawthorn’s activity coordinators, including Oak Park’s AC, Karen Leonard.
In short, it will offer guest lecturers, including several from Catawba College. The course topics touch on “brain fitness,” the Bible, vision, fantasy football, sleep, poetry, cancer and faith, political campaigns and elections, writing, going green, personal finance, nutrition and stress management.
It all folds in nicely with the lifelong learning theme to the University of Hawthorn, a “School of Health and Wellness.”
Course attendance is recorded, and the Oak Park students earn credits – depending on how much they participate – toward associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees by the time the fall term concludes Oct. 5.
They all are, appropriately, considered members of the senior class, and each participant has received a student ID card, the mug shots for which were shot by “university photographer” and Oak Park resident Walter Leather.
Guest lecturers over the next several weeks will include Dr. Janice Fuller, Ralph Ketner, Al Carter, Dr. J. Michael Bitzer, Dr. Tony Abbott, Dr. Gary Freeze, Dr. Lynn Boulter, Dr. John Reynolds Jr., Ken Clifton, Dr. Ronald B. Bartholomew, Peter Gray, Dr. Erin Wood, the Rev. Dr. Randy Kirby, Richard Prest and Heather St. Aubin-Stout.
Many of these volunteer speakers are going to be returning to Oak Park more than once in the coming weeks.
Prest, who introduces the “Great Lectures” series, and Bartholomew, a retired University of Texas at Austin professor, are residents at Oak Park.
Prest said retirement communities tend to provide lots of things geared toward physical activity, but not much was being directed toward the mind.
Taking steps to exercise the mind can work wonders, even retard the advance of dementia, Prest said.
“Basically, it’s mental exercise,” Prest added of the University of Hawthorn.
“Brain fitness” programs with the help of Bartholomew and Prest started at Oak Park last December.
The Rev. Bob Freeman, an Oak Park resident, said the university concept has led him to repeat one of his favorite stories.
When someone saw 92-year-old Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes reading a book and was asked why, “he said he was improving his mind,” Freeman said.
Meaning, it’s never too late.
Freeman noted that this year is his own 65th anniversary of graduating from Davidson College.
Lewis reminded the Hawthorn students that Albert Einstein liked to say he was passionately curious, and Lewis encouraged them in coming weeks to keep asking questions, challenge each other and challenge themselves.
One thing the faculty and administration at Catawba College try to instill with their young students is an ability to be lifelong learners, Lewis said.
So for the new students of Hawthorn, let the learning continue.Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.