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Senior citizens keep their minds active through education

Mary Alyce DuBard, 86, has been living at Tennyson Court Senior Care Community in Amherst for almost a year. An active woman even when she was younger, DuBard was a nurse at Buffalo Psychiatric Center and was heavily involved in community service as a young woman, participating in civil rights marches in the 1960s and '70s.

Mary Moses is originally from Colorado and also lives at Tennyson Court. In between taking art classes, cooking classes and computer classes at the center, the 88-year-old grandmother likes to work on puzzles.

"I like to keep my brain going," she said.

Both women -- plus many of the 82 other residents there -- are going to college this month: Peregrine University at Tennyson Court Senior Living Community brings more than 70 retired and current Canisius College professors to the senior campus to provide college-style courses, said Stephen S. Bowman, president of Peregrine Health Management Company in Syracuse.

The first semester, which is a month long, started Tuesday evening with a four-part series on Western New York history. Next month's semester will focus on the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The classes -- which are free and open to the public -- are not college-accreditted, and no college degrees are issued, but that could change over time, organizers said.

"You never know what it can grow into," said Bowman, adding that the point of Peregrine University is to change the way seniors are cared for.

"We want to move away from the custodial model of taking care of seniors. We want to revolutionize how the aged are cared for," he said. "These seniors are just as mentally acute and as much interested in learning as anybody else."

Western New York's sizable senior citizen population was one of the reasons the program was developed here, said Bowman, adding that Erie County has the ninth largest senior population in the country on a percentage basis.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2005, 14.9 percent of the Buffalo Niagara region's 1.1 million population is 65 or older. That's 164,566 people, of which 71,401 live in the City of Buffalo and 18,483 in Niagara Falls.

Compared with other metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara has a higher percentage of seniors than Rochester, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Milwaukee. In Rochester, the 127,546 seniors make up 12.8 percent of the 996,309 population. Of Syracuse's 628,295 total population, 12.9 percent -- or 81,057 people -- are seniors.

Cincinnati's 2 million population is 11.2 percent senior citizens, or 227,194 people. In Cleveland, 13.8 percent of the 2 million residents are senior citizens, and in Milwaukee, seniors make up 11.2 percent of the 1.5 million population.

Pittsburgh and Tampa-St. Petersburg have slightly higher percentages of seniors. In Pittsburgh, 16.6 percent of the 2.3 million population -- or 382,773 people -- are senior citizens. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, 16.8 percent of the 2.6 million people living there -- or 436,847 people -- are seniors.

Back at Tennyson Court, residents were eager to start school.

"We're not just eating dinner and going to bed," said 65-year-old Henry Schwede, a retired minister from Kenmore United Church of Christ and a retired special education teacher in the Sweet Home School District.

A resident at Tennyson Court since October, Schwede began his first semester Tuesday evening at Peregrine University.

"Living here is like being on a cruise without being seasick. We go from one activity to another, and we're trying to get away from the old image of old people in homes being locked away," he added.

The college-style courses are held at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday, and there are plans to expand the program to other facilities, Bowman said.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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