Seniors Take High-Tech Step Forward to Computers

With each passing day, Paul Parishfelt more and more as though he were a quill pen in a world of computers.

So the 72-year-old retiree from Silver Strand Beach hied himself down to the Ventura Avenue Adult-Senior Center and signed up for a free computer course.

"I had to," Parish said. "I kept hearing people talk computer talk, and I didn't know what they were talking about."

Added Parish, a retired LAPD vice squad officer: "It's probably the toughest thing I ever did in my life. I still don't know much, but you gotta keep the brain working."

Next to Parish in the computer lab sat 72-year-old Anne Clarke and 62-year-old Gwen Clark.

"I was a secretary for many years, but all this technology was passing me by," Clarke said. "I'm determined--all my children are computer literate, and I know how to send e-mail now. Actually, I'm impressed that I can learn this."

A quilter, Clarke added that she's "pulled a few tips off the Internet on quilting."

Said Gwen Clark: "You have to know what your grandkids are talking about. I sat down the first time in January and I was afraid of it. So foreign. I'm no whiz, but I know a lot more than I did in January."

Former high school teacher Jeff Hart teaches four classes a day on "Computers for Senior Adults" at the Ventura center each weekday. He could teach more--there's always a weeks-long waiting list.

"I love teaching seniors," he said. "No discipline problems." His oldest student was 93.

Hart began the program in 1993 with a dozen computers from a Ventura adult education grant. Now, the number of classroom computers has doubled and so has the number of people taking or wanting to take the class.

Not only are older students better behaved in the classroom, "They have the desire, too," he said.

At age 82, Margaret Pierle Beck of Ventura is a good example of that desire.

"If I have to live with the things, I want to know what's going on. I also consider it's essential to keep the gray matter exercised."

Beck likened her budding expertise on a personal computer to the summer she taught herself to drive a Model T Ford in 1926 at age 9. At the time, a Ford was itself a fairly newfangled, intimidating machine.

"I learned how to shift gears before my dad did," Beck said.

Most of Hart's older students are true novices when they walk in--sometimes sheepish to admit how little they know. Everyone works at their own pace--some students may be in their third week while others are in their second year.

"At first, Jeff had to come over every five minutes to help me," said Don, a Fillmore resident who didn't want to reveal his last name.

Dennis Curtin of Ventura said the hardest part at first was just learning to turn his computer on. "But I finally got that down after about three weeks."

Peggy Donaldson of Ventura said learning computer lingo is the most difficult aspect for her.

"My husband tried to teach me," she said. "He'd tell me, 'Move the cursor.' I'd say, 'What's a cursor?' "



The Ventura Avenue Adult-Senior Center is at 550 N. Ventura Ave. For information on the two-hour, twice-weekly computer classes, call the adult services division of the Ventura Unified School District at 641-5200.

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