News From Regional & Continuing Education

OLLI Memoir Class: Remembering Pets, Wars, Neighbors

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

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By MARY NUGENT - Staff Photo
This story is reprinted in full from the Chico Enterprise Record.

CHICOmary brashearsMary Brashears is preparing for her fifth semester teaching “Writing Your Slice of Life” for other seniors who will be taking her class just because they want to. She will be teaching “Writing your Slice of Life — Creating Your Own Memoir” for Chico State University’s learning-in-retirement program.

Brashears is teaching something that interests her. She is one of many retired people who are peer leaders for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a program at Chico State University based on learning for learning’s sake. Those who participate explore new topics, discuss current events, and meet other retired people of a similar mindset.

Brashears, who retired as director from Rape Crisis Intervention in 1997, became involved with OLLI a few ago when she took one of its classes. “It was a genealogy class, and I loved it,” she said. Today, she volunteers at Paradise Genealogy Library.

I think it’s important that people leave stories about their lives,” said Brashears. “A few years ago, my two kids gave me books about writing a memoir. They wanted me to write about my life. I’ve gotten very interested in it, and it’s actually cathartic.

When my mom was still alive, I tried to get her interested in writing about her life,” she said, remembering her mother pretty much wrote a simple timeline. “I think when people do this, we need to have a sense of who they are. Stories need to be fleshed out.”

When she began leading the OLLI class, she saw that writing a memoir can be daunting, especially for people who have lived many years. Where to start? What to include? She breaks it down so people can begin.

I’ve noticed new students sometimes drop out because they feel overwhelmed. People need a focus, so I bring ideas: ‘Remember your second grade teacher.’ A popular one is, ‘Remember a disaster.’ Everyone can remember one.

People who live in California often remember earthquakes. I had one student who remembered the one in 1933 in Los Angeles, and others who remembered the one in 1989 in San Francisco.”

Brashears said even when several people remember the same disaster, they will all have very different experiences and memories.

She said another topic well received is “Where were you during the war?”

We’ve had memories of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam wars. These are not just soldiers’ stories. It is the memories of people who lived during war time.”

Another topic Brashears assigns is writing about favorite pets. “These memories aren’t all fun, because pets are loved and lost, but these kinds of memories are part of our life history.”

She said when people begin to write, they tend to “ramble.” They may start by writing about Grandpa, but before long, their memories have taken them far from just him.

So I make suggestions — like stay with Grandpa. Grandpa is who people want to know about.”

Another assignment that gets people remembering is to draw a map of a neighborhood they lived in. “It could be as a child, a teenager — and leads to who else lived on the street, of walking to school.”

Brashears helps her peer students with the use of similes and metaphors, and with editing their own work.

Many return “because they like the class and what we’re doing. And we become friends. It’s very personal. Now and then we lose a member. One lady was raised in this area, and when she passed away, it was very emotional.”

Occasionally, a student will want to write an entire life story. “Some want to write from their birth to now, and they’re determined to do it,” she said.

Staff writer Mary Nugent can be reached at 896-7764 or mnugent@chicoer.com.

OLLI meeting is Feb. 2

CHICO — People 60 and older or retired and interested in Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Chico State University may attend a welcome meeting Feb. 2. It will be 10-11:30 a.m. at Masonic Family Center, 1110 W. East Avenue. Younger spouses are welcome. Refreshments will be served.

The meeting will include a welcome by President Linda Hubly, and a summary of the benefits of OLLI membership by Membership Chair Nancy Hawley.

There also will be a mini-class on the geology of California by Peer Leader Stewart Monroe, to give prospective members a taste of what an OLLI class is like. There will be an opportunity to meet peer leaders of all spring semester classes, and sign-ups for classes in a variety of subjects.

OLLI offers more than 40 peer-led classes, workshops and field trips each semester in subjects ranging from art, birding, ballroom dancing and genealogy to history, current events, languages and opera.

A registration fee of $65 allows members to take up to eight classes, space permitting, for the spring semester. It also includes a newsletter and general meetings with speakers.

Classes begin Feb. 7 and end May 20. Most classes meet weekly, but some are shorter in duration.

Information is available at www.rce.csuchico.edu/osher.

OLLI at Chico State is affiliated with the national network of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.

Call 898-6679 or e-mail olli@csuchico.edu.

View a pdf of the full print article.