School’s always in session for lifelong learners at Grace Ridge

When 93-year-old Marcy Brown settled into a canoe during a recent Grace Ridge water adventure trip to Lake James, she was pleasantly surprised to discover she still remembered the boating skills she learned in college back in 1940.

“You’re never too old to learn something new – the trick is trying to retain it,” she said. “But those C-strokes and J-strokes came right back to me!”

Summer’s nearly over and students are back in school, but for Grace Ridge residents, the educational journey never ends. Gone are the days when we ended our education at a specific age or after receiving a degree. Now, we’re encouraged to continue learning throughout our lifetime, a common thread in the Good Moods at Grace Ridge program.

“No matter what their age, our residents are always interested in learning,” said Evelyn Beaver, director of life enrichment.

That ongoing pursuit of an active mind was the primary reason behind creating Grace Ridge University, a program that uses The Great Courses to study topics ranging from history and physics, to jazz and baseball. Since 2007, residents have explored 42 different subjects.

“We have such a variety of comprehensive and fascinating subject matter. Right now, we’re offering ‘The 30 Great Orchestral Works’ and ‘The West,’ but next time it will be something completely different,” Evelyn said. “We’ve also offered other types of educational programs that residents have loved. Burke County History and Religions of the World both were very popular.”

Some educational offerings come through fortuitous circumstances. A few years ago, a retired teacher whose mom lived at Grace Ridge offered to give residents a world history lesson. “It was a great learning experience because so many country names and boundaries have changed from when our residents were in school,” Evelyn said.

Those who prefer to learn through reading rather than through video or live presentations can crack open one of the thousands of books that line the shelves of Grace Ridge’s newly renovated library.

“For a retirement community, the amount of books we have is incredible,” said resident Bob Nelson. “It’s a terrific place to just go and be.”

The library also is home to the Grace Ridge Book Club, which is held in partnership with the Morganton Public Library, and allows book lovers to exchange ideas and opinions through resident-led group discussions. Many Grace Ridge residents also take advantage of the continuing education opportunities at Western Piedmont Community College. Earlier this year, Evelyn took a group of residents to a weekly clay sculpture course and said they loved it.

Another recent learning offering came in the form of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, an opera about the fall and death of England’s Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Bob played the DVD in Grace Ridge’s new state-of-the-art theatre, where the “incredible” sound accentuated the experience.

“People who had never before been exposed to opera discovered they really enjoyed it,” Evelyn said. Added Bob, “After it ended, people came up to me and asked, ‘When is the next one?’”

Some residents take their love of music and education to the next level. The Conductorcise® program offers an upper body workout and a music lesson, allowing participants to exercise their mind, body and soul all at once.

One new program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is already so popular among residents, staff and members of the community there’s a waiting list. MBSR was developed more than 35 years ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, to manage stress and pain and help people take care of themselves by understanding the mind-body connection.

Bringing the eight-week program to Grace Ridge was a year in the making. “We were fortunate to be able to offer this program, with the help of a grant, because there are very few people qualified to teach this subject matter,” Evelyn said.

Through its abundant lifelong learning offerings, Grace Ridge celebrates and empowers independence. Residents like Marcy – who has attended an education program every Thursday evening for the past decade – appreciate the chance to stay active and keep their minds constantly challenged and engaged.

She added, “We all just want to keep being as active as we can because we want to be able to stay independent and in our own places as long as we can.”