Lucky for us, this guy just doesn't know when to quit. At 73, Gerry Marx is sharp as a tack and is prepared to get you jumping to your feet. Blessed with a deep, resonating voice, Marx nimbly expounds upon his educational crusade, PILLAR. The Peak Institute of Living, Learning and Rejuvenation is a newly-formed local arm of Elderhostel, an international organization which services the educational needs of seniors. Begun as a summer-only program in New England almost 25 years ago, Elderhostel eventually developed institutes to encourage participation by the local residents -- at a significant savings from the Elderhostel program, about $3 per classroom hour. Two years ago, Marx and others interested in education for seniors organized a forum for Elderhostel participants in the area to develop courses for a local institute. Over 80 people attended. The pilot program for PILLAR began last March.
How was the response to your pilot program?
We could not believe the response. My program, which happens to be on Glenn Miller, drew 33 people -- and mine was the very first program. Tom O'Boyle, who had a little bit longer to get his program [on the history of ragtime] going, got over 60 people, so the response was fabulous.
Have you encountered any problems in recruiting students?
I'd say the only problem we're having right now is competing with other things that are going on -- which is good. Good competition, we like. We're after the person who is already active and wants a change of pace, or we're after the person who doesn't do anything at all. ... We appeal mostly to people who are active already. We know that. But we really want to get the people who are not active, because we know that this is a healthy thing to do. ... The idea is to get the seniors out, get 'em in motion and give 'em some activity.
Why is this such a healthy thing to do?
If [a senior's] smart, they have learned that once you stop learning, you stop living. ... So that's why it's important for seniors to keep their minds open, to keep their mental youthfulness.
What sort of courses appeal to seniors?
The biggest thing that people say is, "I want to know more about where I live and what's going on around here." Because, like myself, many people have just moved here to retire, and they want to learn more about this community.
Has anything unexpected arisen out of the program?
A great offshoot is socializing. That has become really big. Because, figure, the people who go to a music program, a Tom O'Boyle program, are people who are interested in music. The next thing you know, they're comparing notes at the breaks, and they're getting to be friends, and pretty soon [they're saying,] "Come over to my house and listen to my collection!" Bang. So the social aspect is really great -- in all the programs.
What sorts of things must the instructors keep in mind when working with a classroom of seniors?
Seniors want a tremendous amount of participation. They've got about 60 years of history behind them, and they want to tell you about their history. They want to talk. That's why seniors are such good talkers -- because they have so much to talk about. Everyone has a book in 'em. ... Each person is a resource. The only thing is, we need other people to organize and get our resources to fly in formation.