- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2018

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Joan Wilkerson didn’t want to take a public speaking class. The thought of talking to a group of people made her nervous, especially because they would likely all be much younger.

Wilkerson is among a handful of septuagenarians taking classes at Ivy Tech Community College’s Bloomington campus. What they’re studying ranges from art to accounting. The paths they took through life are just as varied, but they all have similar reasons for going back to college.

“My mother lived to be 97,” Wilkerson said. “That woman never sat down. She was up doing something all the time. I think that’s kind of the secret to staying healthy and keeping your mind alert.”

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Richard Wilson, 79, said he and his wife have been criticized by friends for not taking it easy. She volunteers at their son’s business in Bloomington and he teaches communications courses at Ivy Tech four days a week. They live in Springville, about 30 minutes south of Bloomington.

“People our age tell us to sit still in our chairs, watch TV, behave ourselves and act our age,” he said. “We enjoy going around and doing things.”

Wilson started taking classes at Ivy Tech when he realized, as an adjunct instructor, his tuition would be waived. Taking two classes a semester, he graduated with an associate degree in fine arts last year. This semester he’s taking an anatomy for artists course that wasn’t offered when he was working toward his degree. The course is intended to help artists understand the different muscle structures of the human body so they can draw them accurately, he said.

James Johnson, 74, also graduated from Ivy Tech with an associate degree in fine arts, but now he’s working toward a business administration degree. He’s hoping the two degrees will help him build a second career as an artist.

“I don’t know if I’ll be successful or not, but I’m going to give it a shot,” he said.

Johnson’s first career was in computer programming. He primarily developed systems for finance. In the 1980s he took some accounting classes to better understand the industry for which he was developing systems. That’s when he started looking at education differently. As a teenager, he wasn’t interested in school and barely earned enough credits to graduate from high school.

“In 1962, I didn’t feel any real need to be academically minded,” Johnson said. “That changed when I got into my career.”

Wilkerson never got the chance to start a career. After high school graduation, she got married and raised four children. She always wanted to go to college, but by the time her children were out of the house, she thought she was too old. Then, one of her children asked how old she would be if she didn’t go.

“What he was saying was, you’re still going to be 65 whether you go or not, so why not?” Wilkerson said.

Now 70 years old, Wilkerson has earned an associate degree in business administration and is working toward a second degree in office administration. What she’s learned has helped in her job as an insurance producer for State Farm in Bloomington.

Classes and a job are Wilkerson’s way to stay active as she ages. She had planned to travel with her husband, but a heart attack left him in bad health.

“I think it’s healthier to be out and about and see people and live your life,” she said.

Ted Markley feels the same. The 74-year-old had two concurrent careers, one as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense and another as an Army reserve officer. Now he’s taking accounting classes at Ivy Tech.

The experience is different from what he expected. His classmates aren’t talking about the next big party or where to get a fake ID. Instead, they have goals and are working hard, he said. They’re all younger than him, though, and the age gap is something he laughs about.

“It may be a little awkward, because sometimes they think you actually know something,” he said.

Markley isn’t sure whether he’ll complete a degree, but earning a credential isn’t the point for him. He just wants to keep learning.

“I’m not afraid of dying,” Markley said, “but I am afraid of getting old.”


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/2q4OjvH


Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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