Barry Sale is one of a small army of volunteers who work to make Williams Lake Elder College the success that it is today. Angie Mindus photo

CASUAL COUNTRY 2019: ‘Older people want to keep learning’ Cariboo Chilcotin Elders College a real gem for seniors

Volunteer-driven program well-known for offering interesting and challenging courses

For the many seniors who call the area home, Cariboo Chilcotin Elder College is just one more reason to stay put and enjoy their golden years in the Interior.

The grassroots seniors program has grown in size, variety and popularity immensely since its humble beginnings in 2002, and serves to keep those 50 and older lifelong learners.

Christa Obergfell, 70, has been living in Williams Lake since 1980 and is now retired after working as a maternity nurse for 29 years. She loves the program and finds CCEC is the envy of many communities in the province and beyond.

“I have a sister in the Lower Mainland and a brother in Toronto and neither of them have anything like this. They’re quite jealous. This is such an excellent program we have here,” Obergfell said.

“It’s a whole new set of friends and a whole new lifestyle when you retire. You have to do things, you can’t just sit around — that’s boring.”

Barry Sale said the CCEC began just as an idea in 2002 when a number of retirees decided they wanted to offer and take courses to “keep their brains active and keep them interested in lifelong learning.”

The original committee consisted of Bill MacDonald, Audrey MacLise, Hazel Huckvale, June Striegler, Pete Smith and Jean Andersen and was loosely based on a program on Vancouver Island.

Sale said there are three models for similar community programs: one is offered by a university or college, sort of a “night school for seniors,” another form is where volunteers organize the program but it is offered through secondary schools, and the third is what Williams Lake has, where the entire program is organized, offered and taught by volunteers, seeing CCEC run independently and associated with Thompson Rivers University.

“Right from the very start it was well-received by seniors in town,” said Sale. “Older people want to keep learning — they want to find things to do that are interesting to them and challenging to them and that’s what we try to do.”

CCEC started with four courses — creative writing, Canadian literature, health and senior’s travel — and 32 members. Fast forward 17 years later and Elder College now has 175 members, offering 20 courses at a minimal cost of $35 each in everything from meditation and cooking to introduction to power tools, basic plumbing, sign language and more.

“We’re becoming well-known for offering interesting and challenging courses,” he said. “It’s a relaxed, fun learning environment. No grades, no tests and the curriculum comes from them.”

Some of the most popular courses include a computer class called Beyond the Basics, history and art.

In every session, CCEC also offers a few free courses and doesn’t shy away from tough subjects such as advanced care planning (the death of a loved one and what to do).

READ MORE: Over 30 unique, diverse courses available at Elder College

Sale himself also teaches one of the most popular CCEC courses; the Cariboo history tours where Sale explores the local history of various places in the region by bus with many stops along the way. In the next Elder College session Sale plans to offer a history lesson on old roadhouses of the area, with a bus tour over three days in the 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel areas.

Sale has received multiple calls from other communities looking for the secret to Williams Lake Elder College’s success.

“It’s like a snowball. It just gets bigger and bigger,” said Sale, who at 73 is the chair of the curriculum committee.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s enjoyable and I like the way it has gone. One person couldn’t do this it requires lots of people working together.”

CCEC volunteer and student Deb Radolla said she looks forward to signing up for a few classes every session CCEC offers.

“It opens so many new doors. And having the variety is pretty cool. It’s wonderful -—I love it,” said Radolla, who was thrilled with a furniture restoration course she took through CCEC.

Radolla credits the efforts of Sale with making CCEC the success it is today.

RELATED: Seniors and students unite against bullying

“Barry Sale is amazing. He just goes ahead and gets the job done — he’s really taken Elder College to a whole other level,” she said.

“Cariboo Chilcotin Elder College has blossomed under his direction, attention to details, action-packed meetings, and his ability to recruit volunteers as board members, curriculum advisors and a multitude of tasks. It is a vibrant organization — the envy of many other groups in the province. The instructors are first class — many retired principals, teachers, professors, foresters, scientists and other professionals who love to share their knowledge. The organization is a pleasure to volunteer for.”

Sale said he believes in CCEC and hopes it continues on for many years to come.

“It has been a good thing for this community and something we should be proud of.”

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Deb and Pat Radolla enjoy a birding course provided by Williams Lake Elder College. Angie Mindus photo

Phil Ransom (centre) teaches a birding class through the Cariboo Chilcotin Elder College. Angie Mindus photo

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