Staying Sharp Through Ongoing Education

Lonnie Stoller, Road Scholar group leader

While degrees add a level of formality to studies, not all students have the time or desire to pursue a degree in their later years. Some want to experience a variety of classes at their leisure.

Huntley resident Patricia Sukel, 77, took organ lessons from age 11 to 17. Four decades later, she started lessons again. Sukel takes her music classes at the South Elgin-based Music Education Centers of America. All the students in her Lowrey Imperial Organ class are retirees.

For Sukel, who loves music, organ class has become an integral part of her life. “I find the classes to be very relaxing, and they keep my mind young,” she says.

Research backs Sukel’s goal of keeping her mind young. Various studies link arts engagement and cognitive health, according to the National Institute on Aging. 

The Chicago Architecture Center offers classes, too — in the form of tours. Deb Rodak, the center’s director of sales, says that educational walking tours help more than just the brain.

“Maintaining interests and active mental acuity improves the quality of life for senior citizens,” she says. “Taking walking tours and keeping mobility is an asset for those who are able.”

Program leaders are seeing interesting trends in who’s taking courses with them. Rodak, for example, has seen a boost in virtual programming attendance since Covid — especially from out-of-towners formerly from the area.

“Many retirees from the Chicago area who now reside in milder climates were happy to find this way to continue to be engaged in our programs,” she says. “The pandemic created a higher level of interest, ability, and acceptance of virtual programming. We hope to amplify those opportunities in the winter months when coming to our location is not as easy.”

Lonnie Stoller, a Chicagoland Road Scholar group leader, says she saw similar engagement in virtual programming at Road Scholar. Now that in-person programs are back, she’s noticing more women coming to Chicago-area events — specifically women looking to make friends. And overall, the crowd attending is younger than before the pandemic.

“We’re getting people in their 60s,” Stoller says. “There are a lot of couples but more women, sometimes with a sister or a friend from college, and a lot of women on their own.”

Sukel says she continues her education for a variety of reasons. “I think it’s important to take [classes] because they are a bit of a wellness program as well. I have made many good friends through these music classes who enjoy the same thing,” she says. “The art of music brings so much happiness to your soul.”

Others find engagement and inspiration in art, travel, fitness, and more. No matter your interest, you’ll be sure to find a class in it.

Want to expand your own learning? Look into classes at these local spots.

Chicago Architecture Center. Historic walking tours and architecture-focused events.

Center for Life and Learning at Fourth Presbyterian Church. A variety of classes, events, and lectures.

Music Education Centers of America. Music lessons on a variety of instruments.

City Colleges of Chicago. Personal development courses in new hobbies and skills.

Chicago Park District. Classes, from acting to exercise, throughout the city.

Road Scholar. Multi-day learning experiences throughout Chicago.

Old Town School of Folk Music. Music classes, workshops, and performances for all levels.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Study groups and programs for the fun of learning.

Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 print issue.