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Lifelong Learning in Niagara

© Mike Keenan

As we age, the "use it or lose it" theory applies to the brain, a similar process with a St. Catharines-based group called "Lifelong Learning Niagara" which helps improve Belgian detective, Hercule Perot's famous "little grey cells." They (the group) provide learning experiences for adults 50+ living in the Niagara region.

I found myself recently at the Armenian Community Centre, 156 Martindale Road where the group meets Wednesdays from 10 AM to 12 PM. Along with a good sized crowd, I listened to a fascinating and informative lecture by Bill Cunningham, a pioneer of television journalism.

Bill created the groundwork for today's Canadian TV network news. He worked with CBC, Global and CTV, and reported from across Canada and many parts of the world. He has been a war correspondent, an award-winning producer of news and documentaries, an editor, program host, network executive and a professor.

Thanks to Sullivan Mahoney LLP, Lifelong Learning Niagara (LLN) was established in early 2015 as a not-for-profit third age learning organization. It-s managed by a volunteer Board of Directors and became incorporated in July, 2015.

Donna Poag (Secretary) told me that they joined the Third Age Network, an umbrella organization with over 20 chapters throughout Ontario that offer educational programs for senior adults. This initiative originated in France and Paul Bradley (Program) said that they like to incorporate similar topics and speakers from nearby groups. "Kitchener meets twice a week and they boast 500 members. Hamilton has 200 and their programs are always sold out. LLN has 140 members and is growing." Paul says that they need 100 people to break even to cover rental and speaking costs.

They offer a lecture series in the spring and fall plus special events for members such as a recital at the Performing Arts Centre. Membership is $10 per year and runs from September 1st to August 31st. Mary Jane Beccaria, Program Chair, introduced Bill Cunningham. His talk featured footage of war correspondents from the Viet Nam War. Bill, who recently received an Honourary Doctorate from Ryerson University, worked with Morley Safer and had just attended his funeral. He pointed out that "60 Minutes" was based on Canadian news programs and that he had introduced The National, CBC's flagship nightly news and current affairs program.

He described his myriad activities but said that his most compelling job that is "seared in his memory" is that of war correspondent in Viet Nam where he and other Canadian journalists often escaped death merely by being Canadian. He told many anecdotes about his colleagues and how journalists unmasked the collateral damage and destruction in Cambodia and Viet Nam leading Safer to publicly question, "Why are Americans destroying what they are supposed to save?" The White House tried to get him fired and he was warned that the troops would shoot him.

In 1967, 700 U.S. troops were killed monthly in the $30 billion/year war. The battle of Khe Sahn was an embarrassment for General Westmoreland and the Tet Offensive combined with Walter Cronkite's analysis that the war was lost was the bitter end for President Johnson.

A classic folly described by Bill in the US hi-tech arsenal employed against the underdog agrarian Viet Cong army was "urine sniffers" or sensors dropped along the Hi Chi Minh Trail, a supply path through the jungle, employed to detect movement. When the Viet Cong figured out what was happening, they delighted in emptying containers of water buffalo urine in the distance and then sat back to watch the resulting harmless explosions.

Bill related many amazing experiences. "Being a field producer was a magic carpet ride travelling the world with a wad of US money because the bribe takers don't accept credit cards and we had to pay for access and security." He was just outside the camera frame for Dr. Martin Luther King's "I had a dream" speech. From St. Andrews NB, he enjoyed a fantastic career but was brought down to earth by his mother who said, "How can you be a producer when you can't even fix my TV set?"

I asked Bill what it was like in Viet Nam, Cambodia and covering coups throughout the world. His curt reply - "Lots of time scared and being sick!"

The impressive Spring Lecture Series (now over) featured the following topics - The Search for Life in the Cosmos, Neuro-rehabilitation Through Dance, Another Side of Mozart Revealed, Innovation to Reach the World's Poorest of the Poor, and Changing Technology and the Reporting of News.

The Fall Series has set these tentative topics and dates: Sept. 28: India's raise and the implications for Canada, Oct. 5: Stem Cells - biology and applications, Oct. 12: The Arab Spring that never came, Oct. 19: If these walls could talk - murder & mayhem, art & architecture above Italy's Amalfi coast, Oct. 26: Can Canadian mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus or Zika virus? Nov. 2: Art, literature and the poetics of ageism.

On Aug. 24, there will be a free lecture from 7-9 pm by Hamilton's Brian Wylie on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet vs. West Side Story as a membership incentive. There is a need for more volunteers who might help with programming, advertising, marketing, registration, membership and set-up.

If you have suggestions or comments concerning blog topics to help celebrate Niagara, contact me at - mjk6648@gmail.com

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