Pithy anecdotes about William F. Buckley Jr. drew several rounds of chuckles during a lecture about the late conservative author and TV host, presented recently to a group of retirees at Hofstra University.
The speaker, Al Drattell, 84, of Floral Park, shared a firsthand story from when he was a reporter assigned to cover a Buckley address: A court stenographer was taking notes, Drattell said. “She interrupted his speech: ‘Mr. Buckley, how do you spell that word,’ she asked. He spelled it and went on with his speech,” Drattell said. “And when he was asked what would happen if he won when he ran for mayor of New York City in 1965, he said, ‘Demand a recount.’ In his own way, he was very humorous.” (Buckley lost that race to John Lindsay, pulling 13 percent of the vote.)
Drattell’s presentation to about 100 members of PEIR, which stands for Personal Enrichment In Retirement, followed a talk about actor Henry Fonda — part of the group’s Great American Screen Legends series, presented by Jacki Schwartz, 72, of Oceanside, who, like Drattell, is a member of PEIR.
Both Drattell, who handles publicity for PEIR, and Schwartz, a retired science and vocal music teacher, got applause after their lectures, and then were peppered with comments and questions — a hallmark of the peer-led presentations that help keep its members mentally engaged.
“You always learn something from the audience — they always have something to add,” said Arnold Levine, 78, of West Hempstead, who’s been a member for 10 years and chairman for the group’s executive council for the past two years. “Part of the joy is extending your mind and sharing with others.”
All PEIR members have the opportunity to lecture on a long list of topics. Some decline, while others pick up the slack. Drattell, for example, does about six presentations a year; Schwartz lectures about once a month. Others do maybe two a year, or, instead, elect to chair committees. Presenters are expected to research their topics. Drattell spends about three weeks preparing an hourlong lecture with accompanying slides. He checks books out from Hofstra’s Axinn Library, finds visuals via the internet and does other online research. He loads his PowerPoint presentation onto a memory stick to plug into the computer that Hofstra makes available. Drattell is comfortable speaking to audiences because he had plenty of practice during his career in public relations.
PEIR meets Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., with the essential break for lunch when members interact with each other, Drattell said. The program runs year-round, but in June, July, August and September there are no Friday classes. PEIR also has bus trips to sites, such as the United Nations, Gracie Mansion, the 9/11 Museum, botanical gardens and other social activities.
The annual fee is $675; $1,270 for a duo, with a small discount for new members. Those funds are paid to Hofstra. Benefits include all of the PEIR lectures, on-campus events at the student rate and use of the school’s libraries. Bus excursions, meals and special events are not included in the membership dues. There are separate charges for luncheons, holiday parties and a dinner dance, such as the one in May that will mark PEIR’s 40th anniversary this year.
Hofstra provides the PEIR meeting areas and helps coordinate scheduling and fees, said Bradley Kaye, the university’s Continuing Education liaison to the group. PEIR, with an executive council and various planning committees, is pretty much self-governing, he said. Members set the topics for discussion, lead the lectures, and send out emails outlining the programs for each week. “They’re an incredible group of people,” Kaye said. “This is their socialization, they support one another, and it’s how they keep their minds going.”
PEIR members can serve as jurors for mock trials at Hofstra’s law school, Kaye said, and can mingle with students in the cafeteria during lunch breaks. On Fridays, some members play bridge in one of the cafeterias. “The whole social aspect turns this into a second family for them,” Kaye said.
Membership is open to anyone who’s retired or semiretired. Similar learning programs for retirees are offered at Stony Brook University and Molloy College (see box).
Ed Schwartz, 69, of Rockville Centre, is vice chairman of PEIR. Five years ago, he retired as the senior vice president of human resources at Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering services company. Schwartz said he took his own advice in trying out the group. “I used to tell people, ‘You’ll be looking for things to do, you have to think about how to keep yourself mentally stimulated,’” he said. “This gives me real structure and it keeps me involved with very bright and wonderful people.”
PEIR members would like to add diversity to the rolls, Drattell said. “We’re doing outreach at libraries, churches and senior centers to attract new members.” He joined the group after moving to Long Island six years ago for his commitment ceremony to Lilly Cohen, now 87, who has been a member for 15 years. “The interesting thing about this is that there are so many men who attend,” unlike many groups with mostly women, Drattell said. “Often, it’s tougher for men to have outside interests, especially after you retire. They come here to have something to do, and the friendships sustain them.”
The program began off campus as Professionals and Executives In Retirement with about 12 members, then began meeting at Hofstra shortly afterward. About 10 years ago, it made the name change to Personal Enrichment In Retirement, noted Ruth Sussman, 86, of Amityville, who joined in 1996 after she retired as a credit manager.
Sussman has served as chairman and now is on the journal committee for the group’s anniversary bash in May. She and her late husband, Herb, were avid PEIR members, so involved that their children donated a tree on campus with a plaque honoring their participation. Sussman said she enjoys the lectures along with the point-counterpoint exchanges over lunch and the airing of different viewpoints during discussions. “There are people who say lunch is the best class, but part of the fun is being on opposite sides of the fence and disagreeing. I get a different point of view — that’s how you grow as a person. Respectfully, though,” Sussman said. “We don’t allow attacks.”
She laughingly introduced Ed Fleischer, 78, of Wantagh, a retired CPA and attorney, as a sometime sparring partner. “He’s a Trump supporter and I’m not,” she explained.
Fleischer shot back, “Which is wonderful from my point of view, considering how wrong she is.”
Fleischer has been a member since 2012 and attends lectures Mondays and Tuesdays. “It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Even if they’re wrong-minded, they’re nice people,” he notes, saying he’s the token conservative in the regular News and Views discussions. “You don’t have to stay with one thing, either, you can sample different lectures. This can frame your life,” he said. “We get a lot for a little, this is great value.”
Check with a college near you to learn whether it offers a lifelong learning program for retirees. Here is information about three of them:
HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY. To sample the PEIR program at Hofstra and to learn more about the program, go to hofstra.edu/peir; or call Bradley Kaye, at 516-463-7200.
MOLLOY COLLEGE offers classes three days a week through its Molloy Institute for Lifelong Learning, or MILL, program. Hourlong lectures are offered by school faculty or other knowledgeable professionals from September to June. Fees vary from $295 to $495 per person a year. Lectures are offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays in different locations. For more information, go to nwsdy.li/molloylifelong, or call Marion Lowenthal, director of special programs, at 516-323-3941.
STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY offers workshop classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, a peer-taught cooperative under the School of Professional Development. A curriculum committee develops new workshops and prepares fall, spring and summer semester schedules for the 1,100 members. Classes are held five days a week. The annual membership fee of $325 covers participation in peer-led workshops and lectures; there may be extra charges for day trips and social activities and other events. Course examples include a series on French movies to current events to tai chi for arthritis and fall prevention. For more information, go to stonybrook.edu/olli, or call 631-632-6554.