Man, 93, continues lifelong learning quest at IU Northwest

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GARY, Ind. (AP) — Indiana University Northwest Adjunct Professor Chelsea Whittington was teaching an introductory computer and social media class as part of IUN’s Senior University when a student casually introduced himself.

“He said, ‘I’m Stan and I’m 93 years old,’” she said. “I thought, ’Wow, that’s a testament that learning never stops. I thought how amazing and inspiring.”

Crown Point resident Stanley Bokota, a spry 93-year-old who Whittington said looks much younger than his age, recently completed the course on how to use computers, email and the internet.

“I teach a lot of students 55 and up in the senior program,” she said. “Some are retired. Some are still working and want to get an update. They often want social media skills to keep up with their grandchildren.”

Most of the students in Indiana Northwest’s Senior University are much younger than Bokota — decades younger in most cases.

“It’s 55 and up but most are in their 60s and 70s,” she said. “It’s impressive for a senior in their 80s and 90s to have the presence of mind and the physical ability to be here.”

She described Bokota as a “sweet pea” with ambition and a great sense of humor.

“He was a joy to teach,” she said.

Bokota signed up for the class because he wanted to brush up on his computer skills, particularly with Microsoft.

“It was a refresher course,” he said. “The class was fantastic. The instructor teaches extremely well what could be a dry course. It was very helpful.”

Bokota is a native of Poland whose hometown was invaded by the Soviet Union during World War II. He came to the United States, graduated from the University of Chicago, and worked as a trade adviser and regional director of exports for companies like Proctor & Gamble. He joined the foreign service and went on presidential trade missions to Russia, Poland, Iraq, Palestine and other countries to encourage them to have free markets and be open to trade and investment.

He long lived in Valparaiso, where he often attended lectures from guest speakers at Valparaiso University. He often asked a neighbor boy to help him with any computer problems he faced.

“I lived a few houses down from a young neighbor who would find what to click, and it was always something to click, when I needed help, typically with one of my essays,” he said. “He would ask me, ‘Grandpa, what did you screw up today?‘”

Bokota now lives in Wittenberg Village in Crown Point, where he’s left to his own devices. A staff member recommended the Senior University computer class at Indiana Northwest.

“I absolutely use computers. I used to write quite a bit,” he said. “Typing takes a while to get through now, but I use the internet for purposes of information and keeping up with family and friends.”

Bokota wrote memoirs and helped his late wife, Krystyna M. Sklenarz, a psychiatrist, with her memoir, “Two Trains From Poland.”

“I used to write a lot of political and historical essays, especially about World War II,” he said. “I often wrote subjects you don’t find in the history books like the Katyn massacre of Polish prisoners of war. I’ve written about Tehran, Churchill and Roosevelt. The kind of experiences you have form your character and interests. As you might tell from my accent, my outlook is somewhat different from people born and raised in this area. But I try to be a neutral observer of human behavior.”

Bokota has been retired since 1996.

“I’ve tried to keep busy during retirement,” he said. “I traveled a lot before my wife died 10 years ago. I’ve since aged quite a bit and obviously my time is running limited. But I read books and take walks.”

Bokota said it’s vital to remain engaged in the world as you age.

“You need to keep your mind occupied,” he said. “I recommend people get involved in something even if it’s superficial or minor. It helps you stay alert. It helps to do something intellectual.”

He was impressed with Senior University.

“My impression was very positive,” he said. “The instructors were well-organized. They deliver what they promise. The facility is very nice.”

He found the class very practical and useful.

“The course was very focused and vital,” he said. “It taught people how to find things on the computer. The basic course was really good.”

Bokota said he doesn’t know if he has the energy for the sustained focus to take another class at IUN, but he plans to keep active.

“I read, converse with people and get physical exercise every day,” he said. “You need to have regular medical checkups, follow doctors’ advice, eat healthy food, exercise, read and take a course if you can do it. Don’t stay in your room. Be proactive and active.”

About 700 people have registered or participated in Senior University classes at Indiana Northwest, which are free and open to the public, Center for Urban and Regional Excellence Assistant Director Amanda M. Smith said. About 150 seniors have taken part in the university so far this year despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The learning enrichment opportunities provided through the program include topics in each of the following areas arts and culture, business and finance, computers and technology, and health and wellness. While most sessions have been run virtually since the start of the pandemic, we did have several in-person sessions this fall and we hope to offer more in the spring,” she said.

Whittington, a longtime instructor at IUN’s Senior University, said it’s enjoyable to teach seniors because they want to be there.

“It’s like being in a room with your parents. They all love you and admire you,” she said. “It does take patience because they can ask you the same questions over and over. I always get a kick when it’s one of my former teachers. I have taught former teachers from first grade and third grade and love that fact.”

There’s usually a waiting list to get into Whittington’s Senior University class.

“You go at your own pace and create your own content,” she said. “There’s no homework, no pressure, no grades. This is a life skill where they gain personal experience. It gives me peace of mind to teach seniors because you know there isn’t going to be any drama.”

The seniors don’t have to be there. They choose to be for personal enrichment, Whittington said.

“They want to keep their minds active,” she said. “They want to live and thrive while they’re retired. There’s still more to learn and do in their daily lives. They want to be on Facebook with family members and grandkids. They want to take selfies. They don’t want to be reliant on family members for help with computers. They want to learn to do it for themselves.”

They also can enjoy the college experience. Some never went to college, entering the trades right after high school.

“There’s a whole social vibe and it’s a lot of fun coming here and being on campus,” she said. “It’s an Indiana University class and you can go over to the library, which is open to the public, to practice the things you learned in class. I get joy in sharing this knowledge with them so they can share with their grandkids and learn and grow.”

People can register online for upcoming sessions, which are listed on the Senior University webpage.

For more information, call 219-980-6907 or visit iun.edu.

Source: The Times

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