Gertrude Finkelstein wasn't really looking for new things to do when she retired from her obstetrics-gynecology practice. She didn't want to be tied down to anything.
Then she received a recruitment letter inviting her to join UCLA Extension's Perpetual Learning and Teaching Organization--the Plato Society. It was an offer that someone with a lifelong love of learning could not refuse.
The society was founded in 1980 and has grown to a membership of 303. Most members--the minimum age is 55--are retired professionals who never had time in their working years to study courses such as the "History of Arab Peoples." The mission of the Plato Society is to provide new intellectual pursuits for people who finally have time for them.
"The other members are an interesting group," Finkelstein said. "As you get to know them, you first find out what they used to do. We don't wear labels. Then you're surprised that you're studying the 'Isms of Modern Art--1900-1983' sitting next to a former policewoman."
Finkelstein was born in New York City 79 years ago and grew up in Syracuse, N.Y. She started "kicking around the idea of medicine" in her second year of high school, but she had a conflict. Should she teach French or go to medical school?
Her European-born parents helped her decide. "My folks said try medical school. They felt I could do anything. They also never made a distinction between my three brothers and myself."
Finkelstein said she had no problem getting into medical school in the 1930s, even though her class was 5% women. She started her gynecological practice in 1942. "I had it made because I wasn't going to be drafted. Never experienced any discrimination until I started practicing. If we knew there was going to be a Cesarean section, the husband always advised the wife to get a male doctor. At first I was upset, but the added burden of something going wrong being my fault because I was born a female rather than a male was something I didn't need," she said.
But that was then. Now Finkelstein is looking ahead to the next challenge--the Mahabharata, the classic epic poem from India. In the coming semester, she and other Plato members will study it in a translation written in play format by Jean-Claude Carriere. "This one requires a lot of concentration," Finkelstein said. "It will keep my brain going. It doesn't get rusty when you read."
For more information on the Plato Society, call Adriane Lorin at UCLA Extension, (310) 825-7917.
Chinese Conversation--Prof. Chi-Chao Duan from National Chengchi University will teach a class in Mandarin Chinese conversation; Culver City Senior Center, 4153 Overland Ave., Culver City; 10:30 a.m. Monday; cost and information: (310) 202-5856.
Body Dynamics--Venice Community Adult School offers a weekly body dynamics exercise class for older adults; 12:15 p.m. Tuesday; Oakwood Recreation Center, 767 California Ave., Venice; cost and information: (310) 306-8111.
Retired Teachers--Ray Cooper will speak on "Humor in the Classroom" at the next Santa Monica Bay Area Division of California Retired Teachers potluck luncheon meeting; First United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St., Santa Monica; noon Tuesday; information: (310) 457-4470 (bring a dish for six to eight people).