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CASTLE seeks to keep seniors active and growing

October 21, 2012
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - "Anyone who stops learning is old...Anyone who keeps learning stays young" is the famous quote by automotive pioneer Henry Ford. It also the guiding principal behind New Ulm newly established Community and Seniors Together Lifelong Learning Environment (CASTLE), which seeks be the non-profit lifelong learning institute for New Ulm.

The program is open to all ages 17 and up, but it is targeted at providing learning opportunities for newly retired seniors. The program offers diverse array of classes from retired and semi-retired educators with no obligation in how many classes members have to attend.

"It's college level learning with no papers, no tests and no grades," said Kathy Austin-son, program director for CAST and one of the organizers of the program.

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Lloyd Petersen, Professor Emeritus at SMSU in Marshall, helped discuss ideas for launching New Ulm’s new Community and Seniors Together Lifelong Learning Environment (CASTLE) this fall. He works with the CASTLE in Marshall and volunteered to help get the local program running.

She said that the program's most important feature is its ability to get senior out and interact with new people, with the hope creating a community around the classes.

"We always want to focus on involving members, creating a bond between them and the instructor," said Austinson, "In fact, what members teach back to the instructors and the other members by sharing their personal experiences is just as important as the class itself."

She said the hope is these seniors will get to learn things they never learned before while meeting new people in the process. She said the two elements both keep the seniors mentally healthy and improve the state of local community in the long run.

Fact Box

What is CASTLE?

CASTLE offers the opportunity for an adult to become a member of the Lifelong Learning Institute, a community of adults who learn for the joy of learning without grades, tests, papers or long-term classes. Our self-sustaining Lifelong Learning Institute will serve people without regard to previous levels of education and provide the perfect way to expand knowledge while meeting other like-minded adults from all over the region. It's college-level classes with no prerequisites. Annual Membership is just $95.00 for an entire year of courses and events.

CASTLE differs from community education in that the topics will be based on member requests & interests and led, for the most part, by retired or semi-retired professionals or educators who reside in the region. Possible courses could be a Founders Series including Ben Franklin and Thomas Payne, Everyday Chemistry, Writing for Legacy, Theatre Improv, U.S. Caucus System, Music of the Rat Pack and more.

Austinson explained that acquired knowledge was something invaluable that people can use for the rest of their lives. She said that 60 years olds were becoming more active in society, so the program offered them opportunities to seize control of their future while improving their personal development.

"Studies show that if you keep learning, you brain ages better," said Austinson, "It gives newly retired individuals a chance to stretch themselves and stay engaged with the community."

Austinson said CASTLE initially started out as an effort by CAST members to think about how to target seniors in the younger 60s to 70s age range. She said they found lifetime learning instates (LLI) to be a good fit and received help from other programs that had been around for years. Most notably, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Executive Director Steve Benson assisted showing the organization how to set up the program. She said progress has been going remarkably well and progress has hit no road blocks since launching this fall.

She added that the New Ulm community and businesses have also been extremely helpful to the program. She gave the example of Turner Hall allowing the program to use classroom facilities in its grounds for classes. Other example she gave was local organizations volunteering for some of bookend events. She pointed to NUACT offering its director, choreographers, producer and cast members for a Q and A session for members during its upcoming production of "Hot Rods and Poodle Skirts."

Numerous experienced personal from the local CAST program brought their experience to starting up CASTLE, but the program is aimed at bring a completely separate array of programs from CAST. The program already up to 50 members, with organizers hoping to expand to the range of 75 to 100 members within a year.

The program currently offers three courses per season on topics available from volunteer instructors. The program plans to expand that to offering to at least four to five classes per season starting in next spring. The number may even go beyond that as CASTLE develops a network of volunteers. The long-term goal of the program is to bring its members up to the level of CAST, even with CASTLE being subscription-based and CAST being a free offering.

Classes currently offered this fall were WWII Causes and Effects, Contemporary Scandinavian Films and Come Fly With Me Aviation Lecture Series. Future program is not set yet, but CASTLE has several hopeful targets for classes it could offer, such as a cooking class or a bird watching class. All classes are typically once a week meetings over six weeks, depending on teacher availability. There is no minimum require of classes the members are required to attend.

Anderson said the classes that have started so far have received very positive feedback from the members. She said they will take into account what feedback is given when deciding which future classes to offer.

CAST is open to all ages 17 and up. The program costs $99 for a subscription to the classes, which lasts for a calendar year from the day you sign up.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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