ElderCollege, A Concept That has Found A Niche

by Lloyd Brown-John, September, 2019

Lloyd Brown-JohnMany years ago, along a wooded trail in the Lake of Bays region of Ontario I had an interesting chat with a then active United Church Minister, Rev. Welburn Jones.

“Lloyd” he said, “have you any idea of the number of people retiring or about to retire who have professional qualifications which could still be useful to others?”

“I had not thought about retirees very much so what do you have in mind?”

“We need a place wherein these retirees could pass along their knowledge and experience to other retirees. Sort of a school for retirees”.

We continued along the trail looking for his favourite birds.

I stuffed the idea way back in my mind although at his memorial service I thought about him and his vague idea.

And then a very dear friend in Toronto–a former high school teacher, principal and assistant director of education was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Today he exists in a facility in Markham north of Toronto.

I began to wonder if Rev. Jones’ idea could be developed into something that, among other things, might help dissuade the onset of dementia and alzheimers.

And then it happened. From a dear friend Connie in North Vancouver we received one of those email Christmas letters wherein she mentioned that her husband Doug was busy, “as usual” with his Eldercollege courses.

I contacted friend Doug who thereafter sent me a few copies of a printed Eldercollege course catalogue associated with a new B.C. university, Capilano University.

On New Year’s eve of 2009 our guests included Dr. Gordon Drake (Physics) Principal of Canterbury College at the University of Windsor.

“Gordon old buddy I have an idea. Here have a look at this Eldercollege catalogue from Capilano University”.

Gordon, a man of both great repute and thought looked over the catalogue and then said:

“This would really fit in with Canterbury College’s community outreach mandate”.

A few weeks later I went to B.C. to visit my mother in White Rock and while there arranged a meeting at Capilano University with the folks responsible for the Eldercollege program.

We reviewed all aspects from how courses were developed to the financials. Eventually I asked it I could borrow the name Eldercollege and it was granted with delight.

Thereafter, in the months of 2010, I developed a full scale business plan based upon low course fees and volunteers for Canterbury College which was eventually approved by its Board of Directors.

As we planned to offer courses in virtually every community in south western Ontario Gordon Drake and I set out to meet with every regional member of the Ontario legislature. One member was the late Bruce Crozier who in one of his final speeches in the Ontario legislature said he was looking forward to retirement and to taking Lloyd Brown-John’s ElderCollege course on single malt whiskies.

Regrettably Bruce Crozier passed away unexpectedly before he was able to take a course I have not offered recently.

But before his death we launched the effort to develop Canterbury ElderCollege.

Gordon Drake and I met with the then President of the University of Windsor to see whether the University had any interest in sponsoring ElderCollege. The President, whose name escapes me, said “why not do a feasability study...it would only cost about $5,000".

Gordon looked at me and I looked at him in return and we both said we didn’t have $5,000 handy–in pocket or purse–for such a study. So, what to do?

Down the road from where we live is a large winery (one of 16 in the region).   The head of Pelee Island Winery is an old friend so I approached Walter Schmoranz and said: “Walter I need your big room downstairs, I need you to supply some gratis wine and coffee and I want you to help me pay for some local advertising, I want to hold an ElderCollege feasability meeting”.

Walter replied, “you got it and I will split the cost of advertising with you”

And so it transpired that in February 2011 we held a “feasability” study at Pelee Island Winery. A second event was held a few weeks later at the Hiram-Walker distillery reception centrein Windsor. [The mayor of Lakeshore once asked me when we would hold a feasability meeting in his community. I replied, “you’ll need a winery or a distillery”].

Over 200 people over age 55 (our advertised age–55 and better!) showed up.MPP Bruce Crozier attended and remarked “my God there really is a need for an ElderCollege”.

At the next event at the H-W reception centre over 100 people from Windsor a region attended. Thereafter, using three local regional “curriculum committees” we began developing courses for our formal launch in the Autumn of 2011.

Meanwhile Canterbury College hired one of the most remarkable young women with whom I have worked these past almost ten years. Catherine Fettes is ElderCollege’s program manager. We also now have a fabulous program co-ordinator Laura Macmillan.

Canterbury College provides office space and our support staff are actually employed by Canterbury College. An institutional base is probably essential but that base should be functionally independent but related to a university or college. I believe Ryerson’s Life Institute  would serve as an example.

Since our launch in 2011 we have offered as many as 80+ short, low cost, volunteer delivered courses every Spring and Autumn semester. We offer courses in virtually every community in SW Ontario and on virtually every subject. Our current courses are accessible on our website:  www.uwindsor.ca/canterbury/eldercollege, as is an explanation of how we function and how are fees are structured including our very popular “Buffet course option”.

During the Autumn semester 2019 we had over 1,300 course registrations in our 82 courses..

We do have a modest membership fee which helps cover our liability insurance through Canterbury College. And, we have a published course catalogue. We are also upgrading our online course registration process.

ElderCollege serves its aged 55 and better community not only as an interesting educational opportunity but a social engagement opportunity as well. And, for my dear wife and I ElderCollege has both changed our lives and, we believe, sustained our lives.

As Director of Canterbury ElderCollege I can be contacted should any person have questions. And, I would be delighted to work with any group interested in exploring the ElderCollege concept.    lbj@uwindsor.ca