Seniors Back in College to Offer Benefit of Experience : Ventura: Retiree tutors are a hit with students, who appreciate their patience and knowledge. The volunteers say the work keeps them young.


Marilyn Austin has lived through some of the history she teaches to students at Ventura College.

“I remember J.F.K., and some of these kids weren’t even born yet,” said Austin, 62. “They saw the movie.”

Austin is one of a group of 17 senior citizens who volunteer to tutor students at Ventura College. The program started this semester, and college officials say the seniors are already a big hit with students.


“I think that the seniors get as much out of it as the students they teach,” said Carol Marshall, who heads the program.

Seniors say working with students keeps them young and mentally active. Students say the senior tutors are patient and knowledgeable.

“If I didn’t have Marilyn, I could never pass,” said Gina Fortunato, a 25-year-old psychology major who comes to Austin several times a week for tutoring in political science. “She’s very good at explaining things.”

Fortunato said the best thing about Austin and the other senior tutors is their patience in dealing with students. Fortunato had sought help from student tutors her own age, she said, but they are not so tolerant and easygoing.

Fortunato went to Austin recently to prepare for an upcoming test. Sitting across from the Austin, Fortunato was hunched over her notebook, madly scribbling down answers from a study guide that the tutor had prepared for the class.

To force her students to retain more material mentally, Austin prohibits photocopying, making students hand-copy information instead.


“You want to boost your grade? Come to me,” she said. “You can bamboozle your way through high school, but in college you have to do more than show up.”

Austin volunteers about 10 hours a week and handles about 35 students. “I do it because I believe in education,” said Austin, a housewife whose children are grown.

The program is primarily staffed by retired Ventura College faculty and staff or retired professionals. College officials say they save thousands of dollars using a volunteer staff and hope to eventually expand to 50 senior volunteers.

Julius Beyer, a 76-year-old retired engineer from Oxnard, said he donates his time because he enjoys the companionship of young people.

Beyer tutors about 40 students a week in math and can be found weekday mornings at Guthrie Hall, the college’s tutoring center. His schedule is booked weeks in advance.

He jokes with his students and praises them when they figure out how to solve a problem on their own. “If I didn’t have this, it would be pretty boring for me,” Beyer said.


Marshall, the program director, said she was surprised at the success of the tutoring sessions.

“The problem in some volunteer programs is reliability, but I never have a problem with the seniors,” Marshall said. “They’re so professional and responsible.”

George Lanning, a 61-year-old retired vice president of administrative services at the college, said he came up with the idea of the volunteer program because he wanted to stay mentally agile in his retirement.

“Working with the youngsters helps keep you young,” said Lanning, who tutors algebra several times a week. “The kids keep you active and keep you alert.”

One recent morning, Lanning bent his silver head over the blond one of student Loree Burns, 40 years his junior, as the two tried to make sense of her algebra homework.

“Where did you get that number?” wailed Burns, a sophomore criminology major. “I don’t understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.”


Burns was having trouble grasping the concept of cross-multiplying, and Lanning carefully went over the problem again, scrawling on a yellow note pad. This time Burns understood it.

She beamed at him. “You know what? You remind me of my grandpa.”

Lanning joked: “I’m probably old enough to be your great-grandpa.”