College’s senior lectures keep minds engaged

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Frances Stebbins
Columnist

Salemites and Craig County residents are fortunate in having the resources of a church-related (Lutheran) college close at hand and with leadership that makes much free adult education available to the nearby communities.

For more than 25 years, Elderscholar, a five-week lunch and learn program for those 55 and over, has reached thousands of residents at affordable cost.  I’ve been enrolled at a number of the mid-week series of programs which generally are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays in the Sutton Student Center near the student cafeteria. October and March are usual times.

In session from noon to 1 p.m., the lectures by faculty members – and sometimes distinguished alumni – last about 45 minutes and are followed by full lunch available across the lounge from 1 to 2 when most students are through their meal.  There’s a regular crowd of active seniors who enjoy the fellowship of eating together, renewing old relationships and picking up some knowledge about subjects they’d probably never encounter otherwise.

Many of us, remembering the poor food served collegians a half-century or more ago, marvel at the tasty hot lunches or soup and salad selections with dessert which are part of the $75 fee paid for a five-week series.   Of course, the cost of private institutions such as Roanoke has increased exponentially.

The lectures give professors an opportunity to test the reception of 100 or so interested adults to an idea or book they are researching. The group I’m in this spring, for instance, is teaching us about a Native American tribe, the Pueblos of New Mexico and their unusual privilege of having their own sovereign state which was made possible during the Civil War by the grace of President Abraham Lincoln.

This information was conveyed in a documentary film made by Silver Bullet Productions, a sideline of college alumna Dr. Pamela Pierce, who teaches in a tribal area near the Mexican border.   Pierce posed the question to a full room of “elder scholars”: Why did Lincoln, beset with the problem of preserving the union, grant special status to this relatively stable people of the desert?  Many speculations were offered.

Other topics for the Tuesday registrants are a native plant, the contributions of two recent retired presidents of the college, an ethical dilemma and some notable women of the college.

Not specifically Elderscholar but one of a series of lectures the religion and ethics professors are presenting in observance of the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a Jewish scholar offered insights on “Luther, Judaism and The Jews.”  Dr. Dean Bell, for 23 years with the Sports Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, enlightened an evening audience on conditions existing in 16th Century Germany   for the estimated 25,000 Jews living in troubled times among about eight million Catholic Germans.

The guest attempted to open some reasons why Martin Luther, who Bell noted gets much of the credit for the Reformation, wrote many bitter and critical opinions of the money-lenders of his time.  In the ignorance of the day, Bell pointed out, Jewish rituals were sometimes likened to those of the oppressive Catholic leadership; it was also a time of plague, regional wars among states and imagined, if not real, anxieties born of little information which improved only slowly after the Gutenberg printing press.