- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

Retiring from 31 years as a foreign service officer did not mean the end of working for John Beshoar, now 72.

Mr. Beshoar, an economist by trade, figured he could play golf or travel, which he did during his Navy and civilian service, but then what?

The Potomac Village resident knew he had to have a plan. Since he liked art history and going to museums, he figured a master’s degree in art history would provide an opportunity to teach or write. He took a few undergraduate art history courses and in 1995 was accepted into the graduate art history program at the University of Maryland in College Park. He graduated in December 2000 and shortly thereafter became an adjunct professor of art history at Montgomery College in Rockville, where he teaches one, sometimes two classes a semester.

“You really need to do something with your life other than sit back and enjoy yourself,” Mr. Beshoar says. “Life doesn’t end at 62 or 65, and most of us have a lot more to offer.”

Mr. Beshoar, like other area retirees, realizes the importance of continuing to work, volunteering or taking courses to develop a hobby or special interest.

“If you don’t use your brain, you’re going to drift off into dementia. You have to exercise it like you have to exercise your muscles,” Mr. Beshoar says.

Retirees who choose to return to work may not be able to afford to retire, or they want to keep active or pursue another interest through working or taking classes, says Jan Sinnott, professor of psychology at Towson University in Towson, Md.

“Thinking gets more complex as they get older. They see things from more perspectives,” says Ms. Sinnott, who holds a doctorate in psychology. “The classes [they take] reflect they have had a chance to move in this direction.”

A perspective unique to retirement involves realization that time is limited, says Renee Garfinkel, a psychologist with an independent practice in Northwest.

“If you’re in your 60s and you’re wise, you recognize even if you have everything going for you, you have a limited number of years you can be productive,” says Ms. Garfinkel, who holds a doctorate in psychology.

Studies show that older adults who keep busy and their mind active benefit both mentally and physically, says Gary Hong, program director of the Lifelong Learning Institute at Montgomery College, a noncredit program that fosters educational opportunities for adults age 50 and older.

“They’re enrolling to learn new things and to a lesser scale to meet people interested in that particular subject,” Mr. Hong says.

The Lifelong Learning Institute, which serves an average of 1,500 seniors a year, offers beginning and advanced courses in a variety of subjects, including art, music, history, languages, computers and writing, and a chance for seniors to audit credit courses in other subjects. Seniors also can take credit courses outside the program.

Continuing education art instructor Sandy Klingenberg teaches an advanced oils and acrylics class through the Lifelong Learning Institute that many seniors return to session after session.

“They’ve really gotten good. A lot of them are selling paintings and exhibiting,” Ms. Klingenberg says.

Gaithersburg resident Caroline Nielsen, 65, started taking Ms. Klingenberg’s class in 2003.

Mrs. Nielsen, who retired after nearly 40 years with the federal government, has found that most retirees say they are busier in retirement than when they worked.

“When you retire, you have 101 things you can do. You can pick and choose or plan,” she says.

Ruta Slekys, a 50-plus resident of Potomac, wanted to see if she could paint and got hooked once she started taking Ms. Klingenberg’s beginning, and then advanced, art classes.

“It gives you another focus in life,” Mrs. Slekys says.

Most of the retirees taking classes through Northern Virginia Community College’s continuing education program take personal enrichment and leisure learning courses, such as art, photography, picture framing, computers and languages, says Patricia Carrow, program specialist in Workforce Development & Continuing Education at NVCC in Manassas.

“During their working lives, or main jobs, they didn’t have the time to pursue leisure activities,” Ms. Carrow says.

Retirees take continuing education classes to learn new skills, to try something new in a stress-free environment, and to meet new people, says Bonita M. Moore, director of adult and community education at Fairfax County Public Schools in Springfield.

“They get bored with no structure in their lives. They want to contribute and interact with others,” says Ms. Moore, who holds a doctorate in education.

Howard Community College, along with NVCC and Montgomery College, offers continuing education courses for seniors to take on campus or off-site at senior centers and independent living homes.

“There’s a lot of interest among people in the senior age group to keep themselves mentally fit, not just physically fit,” says Roxanne Farrar, continuing education coordinator at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. “They may not be physically healthy, but their minds are incredibly sharp due to maintaining an intellectual curiosity throughout their lifetime.”

NVCC in Alexandria is offering two pilot technology courses at the Goodwin House continuing care retirement community — introduction to the Internet and introduction to Web page design. If successful, the pilot project, the brainchild of NVCC dean of business John Min, will be expanded to other senior homes in the area.

“To me, it’s very appealing because it involves computers and involves working with other people. It’s important for older people to have social interaction,” says John Dyer, 83, a resident of Goodwin House who is taking the Web design course.

Mr. Dyer and the other three class members plan to develop a Web page for Goodwin House, but the instructors need to be patient as they learn how, he says.

“Some of us are hard of hearing. Some of us are hard of remembering things,” he says. “We have a lot more ideas and dreams of what we want to do. Be patient and we’ll get them done.”

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