Senior Studies Institute History

Written by Mary McGladrey, founding member and first SSI chair for May 4, 2001 SSI Annual Meeting and 10th Birthday Celebration.

The SSI Story

Since 1991, SSI has been making history, and the prospects seem rosy for it to go on doing so for many more years. Since those early days many new folks have come to give and receive blessings to and from each other through this fine organization. This brief review is to inform new members and remind long-timers of our roots.

It is not expedient to name names because a "Who's Who" of important contributors to SSI would be a roster of membership. One name cannot be left out because the whole thing started as a gleam in Neal Naigus's eye. Early in 1991, he went looking for an outreach to seniors in PCC's community. He got word of a program run by seniors in California. With that loosely in mind, he called an information meeting at OASIS to see if there was interest in such an endeavor and asked for volunteers to help get the program underway. Eight of us responded and met at the Ross Island campus to figure out how to put reality to his hope.

By May, we were ready to begin a trial run at Ross Island. The first offerings were Travel, Writing Your Life Story; The Middle East - An Anthropological Perspective, and the class that will not die — Play Reading.

In spite of the difficult access to the Ross Island facility, the three flights of stairs and the porta-potties in the parking lot, the classes were well received and we had a "Go!" In July, we formally organized our Planning Committee and we were on our way. Fortunately, we were able to move activities to Neighborhood House where we were most graciously and helpfully supported by Joan Banks and her staff, meeting two days a week.

That first year we also cooperated with OASIS and Good Samaritan Hospital. At Good Sam, we held a monthly all-day session on health issues.

That 1991-fall term introduced News and Current Events, which has been going strong ever since, even during summer breaks. A quote from a Summer Update reads, "Do not despair! Faced with the prospect of not seeing each other until September, the Current Events class members opted to continue on. This gives us all an opportunity to keep in touch with each other while we share our views on what is happening in the world around us. It is testimony to the quality of SSI and its members that many participants in the classes expressed regret that a summer cessation was upon us. Some classes plan to get together socially in the interim. SSI has proven to be a great place to meet interesting new friends." Current Events is now ongoing at all four SSI sites.

Other classes that were held that first fall term were an indication of SSI interests, including science, government, Bill Moyer's "World of Ideas," and a "Potpourri" of selected subjects. We had some fine outside experts: i.e., Terrence O'Donnell (who was shortly after designated National Laureate of History) in our NW Indian series; Jonathan Nicholas and E. Kimbark MacColl in our NW authors on the NW; Marko Haggard on TV's influence.

Each quarter following gave us other classes of diversity and interesting information. Since those early beginnings, we grew steadily into this continuum of intellectual stimulation and friendship that is SSI.

We tried expanding to a third day for one quarter at Friendly House in NW Portland but ended up renting another room for the extra day at Neighborhood House. Once we did a small venture at the Multicultural Center in N/NE Portland. Later we tried a class at SMILE in Sellwood which became a regular site. We then added two more locations — PCC Workforce Training Center at 185th and Walker Road (SSI-West) and PCC's Central Workforce Training Center, near OMSI (SSI-Central).

Right from the first, SSI has been member-driven — which made us very different from most other programs which are presented for and to seniors. Most classes are prepared and presented by our members. At this stage of our lives, all of us have something interesting in our backgrounds, or an interest in something to research, which can be shared with others. The planning and operation of the Institute has been in the hands of the members, with logistical and, at first, financial support from Portland Community College. We are now financially self-supporting, but PCC is there for us whenever needed.

Our first motto was, "For the student who wasn't born yesterday." This was changed to, "We learn from each other and we never stop learning," which really does say what SSI is about.

Long time members know from experience, and newcomers soon find out, what a unique and wonderful organization we have in SSI. Those who have been a part of it do not need to be reminded of the joys of this kind of sharing. For sharing is what we do. We share our interest, our abilities, our questions — and our answers. But most of all, we share our friendship and love with a grand bunch of people — people whose love of learning keeps them alert and interested in life, stimulating people who you miss if you or they are gone for awhile.

That's it, folks. That's how SSI began and there was just no stopping it. SSI was an idea whose time had come.

The SSI story keeps adding chapters and it continues to do just fine.

Wherever and whenever SSI brings people together, it has been a joy to us all. And all of us who have been touched by it owe Neal and PCC our deep gratitude.