There’s a lot more to retirement than golf, fishing or trips to Florida. For members of the Prime Timers, retirement offers the opportunity for education and enrichment, without the pressure of deadlines, papers and tests.
The Prime Timers—360 members strong—are part of a growing international movement of “learning-in-retirement” programs. There are at least 20 such programs in California alone, each sponsored by a school of higher education. Membership is open to people who are over 60 or retired.
“It is basically oriented toward providing a whole range of learning experiences for people in their retirement years. We offer primarily peer-led classes,” explained John Berger, president of the Prime Timers.
A learning-in-retirement program differs from the leisure programs offered by park and recreation districts. The Prime Timers “don’t want it to be just fun and games,” Berger said. “They want a real backdrop of the opportunity to learn.”
Many of the instructors are former professors or teachers, but others lead classes based on their own diverse backgrounds. A committee plans the curriculum at least six months in advance.
Languages and literature are popular offerings for the Chico group. Over the past semester, instruction in French, Spanish and German was offered. Literature offerings included poetry, Shakespeare, James Joyce and major 20th-century American writers. Other topics included jazz, opera, art films, modern science and early cultures of the Mediterranean. A group known as the Cracker Barrel meets weekly throughout the year to discuss current events.
Prime Timers is sponsored by Chico State University and operates under the auspices of the Associated Students. It has an on-campus office and access to a classroom for its classes, although the popularity of some of the offerings has necessitated finding other classroom sites, including local churches and members’ homes.
“The university is doing this as a charitable or community service. They’re not in any way required to do it,” Berger said.
“We have tried to find some ways to be of service to the university to justify in some ways their going out of their way for us,” he continued. “We’ve hosted international students, we acted as ushers for baseball games, and we’ve done child care with their preschool. We’ve found whatever ways we can to volunteer and make ourselves useful.”
Thanks to the donated space and all the volunteer efforts, dues are kept to $35 per year. For that, a member can take as many classes as he or she wishes, as well as attend monthly general meetings featuring various speakers.
“It’s a great deal for people. We try to hold the costs as reasonable as we can,” Berger said.
Anyone interested in joining the Prime Timers can call its office and request more information. The group has also scheduled its “welcome back” event for the spring semester on Wed., Jan. 16, from 10 a.m.–noon at the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium on the university campus. Brief presentations will be made on the different class offerings, and instructors will be available for questions. Spring classes begin the week of Jan. 28.
Although the focus is always on learning, Berger concluded another valuable reason to join the Prime Timers is for the camaraderie.
“One of the things that I’m struck with is that the membership is very heavily weighted toward people who have moved here in retirement. This is a quick entrée to friendships, to community life, and to opportunities for service and learning."