Learning Never Gets Old for Those in 80s Club : Aging: Group is part of a larger one called TARP, a continuing education and personal enrichment program open to all retired men and women. It's been called a lifesaver.

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Harry Teplick's club members were born before television, credit cards, polio shots, pantyhose, fast food, Frisbees, rock music and the pill.

They were born before Mickey Mouse, split atoms, laser beams, ballpoint pens, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, even before air conditioners.

All 140 members of Teplick's club were born before 1915.

They are the 80s Club, an octogenarians-only organization founded last September by Teplick, a hale and hearty 85-year-old who functions as the club's chairman.

"We've seen more change than a parking meter," Teplick said.

The 80s Club is part of a larger organization, the Temple University Assn. for Retired Professionals, or TARP.

TARP is a continuing education and personal enrichment program open to all retired men and women--not just to Temple graduates--who want to be actively engaged in an educational and social environment.

"We may be older, but we can become wiser," said Louise Maxmin, 86.

Participants in TARP range in age from 55 to 95, with the average being 73. TARP's membership has swelled from about 50 charter members in 1975 to more than 600 today.

Teplick's classmates in TARP include retired physicians, lawyers, educators and businessmen. There are married couples and singles, widows and widowers.

According to TARP's director, Carlina Reyes, members join to experience "the joy of learning, the stimulation of new friendships and the satisfaction of contributing their energies to an exciting program."

TARP offers more than 60 courses weekdays at Temple University's Center City campus. Subjects include foreign languages, history, painting and computers. For the adventurous, there is also yoga, aerobics, tap and line dancing and alternative healing.

"I'm dumbfounded and awe-struck at their energy level," said Reyes, who is practically a kid at 49.

What's unusual about the program is that courses are taught by member volunteers who serve as teachers or group leaders in their areas of expertise. Ten of the 80s Club members teach classes, including John Bender on Shakespeare, Joe Czudak on calligraphy and Marion Pollack--the group's 83-year-old tap dance instructor.

There are no quizzes or exams and no grades. There are no certificates or diplomas. Many courses are filled far in advance; absenteeism is almost nonexistent.

For all this, TARP's members pay an annual membership fee of $100.

To join the more exclusive 80s Club, Teplick said, there is only one rule: "We'll accept you only if you cannot pronounce the word elderly."

Besides filling their days with TARP classes, 80s Club members have a full slate of activities, including tours to museums and historic sites, theater performances and concerts. Members also are compiling a book of essays and anecdotes to be published next summer.

"It's never too late to broaden your experiences," said Edith Feld. "This beats sitting at home in front of the television."

Feld, 80, leads a course called Lifestyles of the '80s, a series of weekly presentations on such topics as "Humor of the Octogenarian" and "When I Was in College--60 Years Ago."

Education and companionship aren't the only benefits of TARP of the 80s Club.

"TARP is a lifesaver," said Jessie B. Haefner, 83.

Dr. Albert J. Finestone, the director of Temple University's Institute for Aging, said studies prove that people who remain intellectually active throughout their lives show a significantly slower onset of cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer's disease.

"Remaining independent and keeping active, mentally and physically, are absolutely critical to successful aging," Finestone said.

Andrea Taylor of Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning praised the activities of the 80s Club.

"These people are fighting against the ridiculous myth that once you turn 70, you don't have two gray cells left to rub together and you belong in a nursing home," Taylor said.

Taylor runs a drug-prevention mentor program that pairs older adults with teen-agers. Her doctoral research involved studying how elderly people cope with being alone.

"They need something meaningful in their lives," Taylor said. "Retirement doesn't have to be the end of everything."

Teplick retired as a successful businessman 17 years ago.

"I joined TARP because I needed something to do," he said. "I guess I still do, because I'm still here."

Known as much for his wit as his wisdom, Teplick remembered growing up with a "strange" set of values: "In our day, we got married first, then lived together. Can you imagine that?"

He said he can remember when a pitcher of beer cost a nickel and Temple's college tuition totaled just $200 a year.

"A student loan was when you gave your roommate a dollar," he said.

But seriously, the 80s Club is not all fun and games. For many, it is life itself, a second life.

Morton Basner, 81, teaches bridge at TARP. He also undergoes 8-hour dialysis treatments at Lankenau Hospital three times each week.

"I've got four days to live the rest of my life," Basner said. "I spend two of them at TARP. Thank God for them."

The members of the 80s Club have a message for the 79-and-under set: Keep busy and maintain your sense of humor and someday you'll be able to join.

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