After 40 years away pursuing a career, Diane Carroll moved back to Lancaster in 2006 and looked for ways to get reacquainted with her hometown.
“I ran into a person at F&M who started taking me around Lancaster, showing me all the good stuff that goes on — theater, concerts, that sort of thing,” she recalls.
One of those good things was Quest for Learning, a series of educational fall and spring seminars held at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. She attended a talk on “America and the World in the 21st Century” and was hooked.
“I think I’m one of these people that could have been a full-time college student,” says Carroll, who joined the Quest board of directors a decade ago and now serves as its president. “My training in college was I was a (mathematics) major with a minor in Russian. … I love music. I love history. I love science.”
Now in its 46th year, the Quest for Learning program covers all those interests and more in pursuit of its mission “seeking the encouragement of mental stimulation and growth, the excitement of new knowledge and the pleasure of new friends.”
Following two years of Zoom programming due to COVID-19, Quest for Learning plans a full, in-person return to that mission with its fall series, which runs six consecutive Thursdays, from Sept. 29 to Nov. 3.
Quest offers eight lectures each week, four from 9:40 to 10:30 a.m. and four more from 11 to 11:50 a.m., with a refreshment break in between. Participants can choose one lecture from each time slot. Registration for the full six-week series, a total of 12 lectures per person, is $20.
“We try to have as much variety as we can possibly get in our programs,” Carroll says.
Topics include everything from history, current affairs, politics and law to art, music, mathematics and science.
This fall’s offerings will include eight topics, with six lectures in each. The topics are:
— Keller Memorial Lecture Series (presented by the history faculty at Millersville University)
— Short Story Discussion Group
— “The World Created by Science”
— “Movies as Mirrors of Their Times”
— “The Rise of Western Civilization”
— “La Convivencia: When Christians, Jews and Muslims Lived Together”
— “Landmark Documents of American Democracy and Their Authors”
— “Big Names in Philosophy and How They Have Changed Our Lives”
Within those topics, Quest participants can choose from lectures like “Atomic Anxiety in Post-War Movies,” “The Disastrous 14th Century,” “The American Revolution and Lancaster,” “Shaking the Family Tree,” “Thaddeus Stevens and the 14th Amendment” and “Plato, Aristotle and Augustine.”
In the past, Carroll says, some of the most popular offerings have been music series and presentations by local architect Gregg Scott.
“Some of our attendees actually write down all the locations he talks about so they can walk by them later,” she says. “He finds all these wonderful gems in Lancaster to lecture on.”
Quest presenters are as varied as their subject matter. Some, like Scott, are experts in their field, whether they are musicians, artists, writers, clergymen, businessmen or community leaders. Many others are college professors, both current and retired.
“We want to have as much diversity and as much range of age and topics that we can possibly get,” Carroll says.
Finding presenters has never been an issue. Many, in fact, have come to the board offering to participate and share their expertise on a particular subject, she says.
Jean Boal, who retired from Millersville University’s department of biology in 2018, gave her first Quest for Learning talk, on climate change, in spring 2019. Since then, she’s given a six-talk series on the natural history of the mid-Atlantic shore and another on animal behavior.
“I still want to give back to my community, and what I know how to do is explain science to people, so it seemed like a natural fit,” Boal says.
Several local colleges also contribute a full six-week lecture series.
This fall’s Keller Memorial Lecture Series is part of an annual tradition begun to honor the late Richard Keller, a longtime chair of Millersville University’s history department and a former chairman of the Quest for Learning board.
Full-time, part-time, adjunct and retired faculty volunteer their time and choose their own topics for the Keller lectures, says Erin Shelor, current head of MU’s history department, who has given five talks for the annual fall series since 2011. Shelor says presenters will sometimes choose topics based on their current research or on something they hope to eventually use in one of their college courses. Other times, it’s just to satisfy a personal interest.
“My lecture last year was on how COVID compared to historical epidemic experiences,” Shelor writes in an email. “Not something I’ll use in a course, but it seemed timely and interesting.”
Shelor will have the Oct. 27 slot in this fall’s series, with a discussion of the disability rights movement, something somewhat related to her current research on autism. Although she already knew the basics, Shelor says preparing for a Quest for Learning talk gave her the opportunity to delve deeper and gather information that will likely find its way into her History of Medicine course at MU.
On a personal level, Shelor says, Quest for Learning also offers a nice change of pace.
“We participate because it’s something the department committed to many years ago, but also because it’s fun!” she writes. “The audience at Quest lectures are curious, interested and raise fabulous questions in response to our lectures. Our college students are sometimes more concerned about how much of this material they ‘need’ to know and how they will be assessed on that knowledge. That practicality makes sense for them, but Quest audiences are there simply out of intellectual curiosity and interest. And it leads to really fascinating conversations with the audience.”
Although Quest for Learning is billed as a program for people of retirement age, Carroll says there is nothing prohibiting people of any age from taking part. However, the weekday morning sessions make it more difficult for young working adults to attend.
Like any organization, Quest is constantly looking for new ideas and new people, whether it’s board members, lecturers or attendees.
“Our goal has always been to try to recruit new blood because that’s what’s going to keep us alive,” Carroll says.
While Quest for Learning has had some ups and downs over its nearly half-century history, it was thriving before the pandemic, she says, with registrations somewhere between 450 and 500.
Quest originally began in 1976 with the financial backing of several downtown churches and a committee of representatives from each of those congregations. In 1999, Quest for Learning was incorporated as an independent, not-for-profit corporation with a board of directors. Much of the program’s recent success is due to that dedicated and well-organized board, Carroll says.
COVID-19 hit right before the start of the spring 2020 session, forcing Quest to cancel its programming for the first time since its inception. By fall 2020, they were able to pivot to an online format, offering free lectures via Zoom. But as many educators and students will acknowledge, it just wasn’t the same.
Ironically, even though Boal retired from college teaching before COVID-19, she still found herself having to adjust to virtual teaching as a Quest presenter.
“With it virtual, I’m just talking to a screen. I don’t have a sense of working with people, and I really prefer to be with live people,” she says. “What’s exciting about teaching — well of course I have a passion about the material I’m teaching — but it is actually working with people and helping them understand the world from whatever place they are.”
With a new website and a full slate of lectures, Quest is hoping for a return to normal this fall.
“Our concern now is … getting people to come back who have gotten maybe into a different routine,” Carroll says. “I’m optimistic that we can build back up to that wonderful registration number … that’s what keeps our budget balanced, but I honestly think we’re going to have to work for that because it’s a different time now.”
Thanks to the hospitality of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and those who volunteer as organizers and presenters, Quest can keep its registration fee low to make the program available to as many people as possible, Carroll says.
“The real bottom line is how many people come,” she says. “We think it’s just a wonderful organization that we want to live forever.”
Registration is now open for the Quest for Learning fall program, which starts Thursday, Sept. 29, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 31 S. Duke St. To register or to view a full seminar schedule, visit questlancaster.org.
Editor’s note: This story appeared in Senior Living section of the May 11 edition of LNP.
Editor’s note: This story appeared in Senior Living section of the May 11 edition of LNP.
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Quest for Learning returns to in-person programming Sept. 29 – LNP | LancasterOnline