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‘These are our leaders’: How Lifelong Learning came to be

By Staff | Sep 6, 2019

The Lifelong Learning program at Shepherd University offers academic courses and activities to the community. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — When Shepherd University’s last president, Suzanne Shipley, was being interviewed for the job, community members were invited to join in the interview process. One influential group, Shepherdstown Area Independent Living, jumped at the chance to propose some new ideas to the prospective president.

According to SAIL charter member Jack Young, he was one of a couple members from SAIL to ask Shipley about her plans for Shepherd University’s community involvement.

“You know, SAIL helped get this started,” Young said, during the reception for Lifelong Learning on Aug. 28.

Living in Virginia for over 20 years, Young had attended a Lifelong Learning program at George Mason University. After moving to Shepherdstown, he visited the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, where he attended a class about starting Lifelong Learning programs.

“Whenever I came to Shepherdstown, there was no programming for lifelong learners,” Young said. “So when they were interviewing Dr. Suzanne Shipley as a candidate for Shepherd University president, we asked if she was president, would she be interested in starting a lifelong learning program. She said she would, and she did.”

After Shipley was named president, she hired the founder of Shenandoah University’s now-defunct Lifelong Learning program, to plan out a similar program for Shepherd University to implement. Once the plans were drawn up, Karen Rice was hired to be Shepherd University’s director of continuing education and lifelong learning.

Today, Young and other longtime Shepherdstown residents can see how Rice has used those original plans to form a program that attracts over 300 members every school year.

“It’s grown and matured, and become very successful,” Young said. “This community has so much talent and interesting people, and Karen Rice has taken on the directorship of this and continued to expand it. The quality of the instructors is impressive.”

For Young, being able to learn from retired professors, opera singers, pastors and other professionals not only encourages participants to keep their minds active, but also allows these professional to keep sharing their wisdom with the community.

“Years before, I had seen in the rotogravure section of the Sunday paper a picture of an older person. The write-up of that said, ‘In our town, these are our leaders.’ And I said, ‘Where is that?'” Young said.

Once, “that” was nowhere in the tristate area. But with the founding of the Lifelong Learning program at Shepherd University in Aug. 2011, “that” place is Shepherdstown.