From left: Cynthia Quinn-Young, Roger Oliver, Birthe Achtner, Patrick Quinn-Young (missing from the founder’s group photo is Ron Garner – now living in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island)
The Story of Nelson’s LiR began with an idea, a group of friends and an article in the newspaper.
In early 2008, Roger Oliver, with a group of friends, had begun discussing the idea of Elder Learning Center in the Nelson area. At the same time, Birthe Achtner, expressing the same idea, was interviewed for the Senior’s column of Nelson’s weekly paper, The Express. It was just a matter of Roger contacting Birthe and the two visionaries meeting for the idea to take wings. By late autumn, an interest group had been established and Carol Zubick from Selkirk College had been contacted. Zubick felt the project could be a “go” under Selkirk’s Community Education division.
On February 23rd, 2009, the first official planning meeting of the newly formed yet-to-be-named third age learning group was held at the Vienna Café with Birthe Achtner, Cynthia and Patrick Quinn-Young, Ron Garner, Carol Zubick, Sarah Judith and Jim Hearn in attendance. Roger Oliver, on a plane heading to New Zealand, attended in absentia.
Sitting left to right: Patrick Quinn-Young, Birthe Achtner, Roger Oliver, Cynthia Quinn-Young, Phyllis Dale. Standing back row: Susanne Raschdorf, Ida Hanson.
Over the next three months, The Vienna Café became the meeting place for monthly planning sessions. In March, the group found a name: The institute for Learning in Retirement which was quickly shortened to Learning in Retirement. In April and May, the fine details—course costs, size, locations, programs, topics were honed, and the group was preparing to introduce the idea to the wider community.
On June 9th, 2009, the first public meeting was held in the Nelson Public Library. There was some trepidation about how the idea would be received but by the time the doors closed 24 people had arrived. In the middle of the event, Margaret Hornby raised her hand and said, “Gloria Currie and I will teach the first course—Memoir Writing!” By the end of the evening, the steering group had added Gordon McGregor, Susanne Rashdorf, Ida Hanson, Jim Mattice, Phyllis Dale and Susan Flynn. LiR was officially a “go”
By September that year, Friday Drop-in presentations had begun and LiR’s first course, Memoir Writing, taught by Margaret Hornby and Gloria Currie, was offered.
The following year, May 2010, LiR held its first Annual General Meeting, and the first board was elected. In 2011, quizmaster Ron Garner, inaugurated the Pub Quiz and field trips began, including a train ride in Washington state organized by Gordon McGregor, Marilyn Pollard and Patrick Quinn-Young. Laura Duncan, the first editor of the LiR Newsletter, designed its layout. The first edition in September 2012 featured SEEDS and outlined six courses. Two years later Peter Bartl and Jane Merks renamed it the LiR Journal when they became the editors.
In the 10th Anniversary Special Edition of the LiR Journal in 2019, the membership of LiR had grown to nearly 450 members and over forty courses per semester were offered. In addition, there were six or seven yearly field trips and social events. Courses ranged from academic to technology to general interest. A course in philosophy was as popular as wine tasting. There were discussion and travel groups. Where there was interest, there was a continual outreach for courses, new ideas and new presentations.
In 2020, despite the Covid 19 lockdown and isolation, with the help of LiR’s savvy Tech Team navigating everyone through Zoom, LiR was able to continue offering courses and presentations. This new technology has also opened new and different ways of offering courses and presentations. It could reach and connect with those seniors unable to travel or attend in person. It opened the path to establish interest groups that could meet both in person and via Zoom. And when the snow was deep and the roads icy, people could still attend. Who’d have thought the pandemic would lead us to new ways of offering courses and a new way of building interest groups!
As LiR looks toward the next decade, it continues to thrive. From a small core group, LiR membership has grown and weathered each year sharing cumulative knowledge, experience, and laughter. New visionaries with new ideas and technologies will extend and build on the steps laid by the original founders. There will, however, always be the same underlying belief; learning, curiosity and social engagement are vital to aging well.
I appreciate being a member of LIR because of social connections, taking multi-session courses and attending Friday presentations. Volunteering gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.