The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 27, 2013

Mankato Area Lifelong Learners aims to reach younger crowd

By Robb Murray
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — A few months ago Mankato Area Lifelong Learners pulled together a focus group to tackle an issue it didn’t have a lot of expertise in.

The group, known for bringing interesting classes, outings and other services to its age 55 and older membership, is looking to expand its reach downward into a younger demographic. The goal is to hopefully fill its classes — which take place in community rooms and churches around the Mankato area — with as many seniors and soon-to-be seniors as possible.

To aid in this task, it gathered a bunch of folks from what could best be described as the next generation of potential Mankato Area Lifelong Learners.

And what did they learn?

“The needs of that group are a little different,” said Joe Hogan, a longtime organizer of Mankato Area Lifelong Learners.

For example, one of the findings of their focus group was that the time of most of the classes — 1 or 2 p.m. — doesn’t work well for folks who aren’t retired yet. So they’ve made some adjustments to times. Some of the classes even yet this fall are in the evening. More evening fare can be expected when new schedules for spring and summer are released.

The group will continue to offer classes that have become its bread and butter, such as on health issues, life planning and outings to local spots of interest. In the current calendar of classes, for instance, there are classes on sleeping better, an outing to the Emy Frentz Center for the Arts (which is an evening event Nov. 14), and a question-and-answer session on Alzheimer’s and other dementia (also an evening event).

They’ve also got plenty of the usual events on the calendar, including a visit from Retro Ron’s Roadshow (which already took place) and sessions on fantasy literature, aquatic mammals and a talk from a local couple about their recent trip to the Holy Land.

“You’ve got to keep learning to keep the mind active,” Hogan said.

Mankato Area Lifelong Learners’ demographic research shows there are roughly 15,000 people aged 55 and over in Blue Earth County alone.

Their focus group research, meanwhile, showed several areas of high interest among the potential future members.

Nearly 75 percent of all participants said they wanted to see offerings in music and art, while just 35 percent said they’d be interested in antiques and collectibles. Conservation and wildlife scored high at 64 percent, while arts and crafts did not (32 percent). More than 80 percent wanted to see tours of local spots of interest, while just 35 percent said they wanted to see literature and poetry. When asked what time they wanted to see events scheduled, 61 percent chose the evening hours, double the numbers for 1-3 p.m. and 2-4 p.m.

The group also is trying something to encourage people to attend. Because the program isn’t free — membership and fee information is available at their website, — they have a new plan in place called Try it! You’ll Like it! This allows people to attend one or two events for free as they ponder a decision to become members.

Here's a sampling of the courses offered by Mankato Area Lifelong Learners n How Was Your Night? Did You Sleep Well? -- Nurse Megan Isaacson of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato Regional Sleep Disorders Center will discuss all issues regarding sleep; 2-4 p.m. Tuesday at the Snell Motors Community Room. n Memories and Memoir of an Art Forger's Confidant -- For seven years, Mark Forgy was apprentice, secretary, gallery director, friend and confidant to Elmyr de Hory, recognized as the world's most talented and successful art forger in the style of Picasso, Renoir and Matisse; 2-4 p.m. Nov. 4 at Snell. n Why Fantasy Literature Matters -- English professor Ramona Czer and Bethany Lutheran College student writers of fantasy will explore how fantasy literature taps into our psyches; 2-4 p.m. Dec. 3 at Snell. n Alzheimer's and Related Dementias: A Long and Winding Road -- Bring your questions and concerns about these devastating diseases to a conversation about Alzheimer's and related dementias; 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at Snell.