Urban coyotes can run up to 40 miles per hour and jump as high as 8 feet. These are just two of many facts that Arizona Game and Fish urban wildlife specialist Darren Julian shared in his urban wildlife class at La Loma University (LLU). The 31 students in the class hung on Julian’s every word and asked so many questions that the lecture ran 30 minutes over.
These students are not your typical undergrads and LLU is not your normal institution of higher learning. The students range from age 62 to 90-plus and La Loma University is a lifelong learning program largely started by residents of La Loma Village, a Sun Health-owned continuing care retirement community in Litchfield Park near Phoenix.
“Just like physical exercise is good for you, so is mental exercise,” resident Joe Schoggen says. The retired credit union executive and Navy admiral, also was a professor at the University of Kansas so he is well-acquainted with the power of learning, including lifelong learning.
In June 2014, Schoggen and 15 other La Loma Village residents and four staff members came together to discuss boosting learning opportunities on the La Loma Village campus, home to more than 175 residents.
Research shows that challenging our brain can help it function at its best and remain healthy longer, the classic “use it or lose it” school of thought. As preventive medicine physician and Masterpiece Living® President Dr. Roger Landry says, “Learning new things and keeping our level of brain activity up is a virtual fountain of youth.”
Fountain of youth or not, the LLU planners truly enjoyed learning new things and that was enough to spur them to start the university.
Their first order of business was developing a class schedule that would appeal to a broad base of residents at La Loma Village. After that came finding and recruiting experts to speak on the chosen topics and scheduling the talks.
The 2014 fall semester featured a “Great Courses” DVD series on the Civil War; a class about colorful characters from Arizona’s past; a poetry class; a desert wildlife talk, and a series of classes led by teachers from ALLE Learning, a provider of lifelong learning services. Sun Health’s Community Education programs, focused on health topics, were also part of the curriculum.
Theresa Turpin serves on the planning committee and attends almost every class. “I’ve always been interested in learning new things and going to talks to hear interesting people,” she said.
Windy Hadley, a Life Enrichment program developer and unofficial “dean” of LLU, says each class draws from 30 to 40 students. Classes fill up fast and waiting lists are not unusual. She credits the resident planners for LLU’s popularity.
“The residents who helped plan the university have done a spectacular job,” Hadley said. “Their excitement and hard work have made it a success.”
The list of spring semester (2015) courses also included an assortment of topics. Students could learn about genealogy; biblical history; U.S.-Russia relations; the adaptations program at the Wildlife World Zoo and more.
The university operates with a small budget and classes are no cost or low cost. The LLU planners are already are charting the next semester with new and better offerings to stimulate the mind.
“We want people to keep challenging themselves mentally and to stay engaged with the world, but we want them to have fun while they are doing it,” Hadley said.
“It’s a great way to keep active,” Turpin said of LLU. “The more people get involved, the happier they will be.”