Category Archives: Classes

A Stroll in the Park

The author of this piece, Douglas Johnston, would welcome comments and discussion on the topic so feel free to add your voice after reading.

A Stroll in the Park

“Is there any pleasure which all persons find at all times in every park? If so, upon what does that pleasure depend?” asked Frederick Law Olmsted for the sole purpose of answering his own questions.

“Yes,” he answered, “there is a pleasure — common, constant and universal to all parks. It results from the feeling of relief experienced by those entering them, on escaping from the cramped, confined and controlling circumstances of the town, a sense of enlarged freedom — to all, at all times, and in the proportion by which there exists the general impression of undefined limit and sense of indefinite extent.” (Frederick Law Olmsted, Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns, 1870.)

Central Park

Olmsted worked to create spaces where people could “easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them.”

That was how Olmsted pitched his vision for what city parks should be. A park shouldn’t feel like the city, Olmsted believed. It should feel like an escape in the city from it.


And that is what Central Park and 500+ other Olmsted parks and green spaces remain today. He was a man who helped make cities livable, and who changed America forever.

In a little over two years we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. What more exciting time to explore, understand and participate in  Dorothea Dix Park’s first steps to address the complexities of developing a health-promoting place for all, its sustainability and resilience, and the legacies that Olmsted and Dix champion.

Dix Park


Douglas Johnston – OLLI Member.

Before retirement, Douglas taught at the UNC School of Public Health, was counsel to the State Treasurer, and held the rank of Commander, US Navy, so for him, it’s natural to see Dix Park as an investment in the community’s well-being and our civic common ground.  



His Handwritten Letters

Writer’s note:  The letter shown here is a prop.  This story about my father’s letters, however, is true in spirit, and largely in fact.

Black ink

 A man of routine, his letters were never written from home.  Time at home began sharply at 6 p.m. and was given to his wife, eventually of sixty years, and to us, his three children who left his home and his town in our early twenties.  His letters to us were mostly newsy.  He always wrote them on white paper which rested on the glass counter off to one side of his long, narrow furniture store, He sat on a rickety stool.  He could have repaired that stool as he was handy with such things, or selected a new one since he sold a variety of stools, but he chose this ancient relic in need of re-gluing that swayed with his words.  Always teased about that stool by us and by mother, he argued that its creaks and groans were words understood only by them.  In his mind, the stool was his writing partner.  Words were chosen carefully and crafted in broad black script by the two of them over their many years together.

Handwritten Letter

He and his stool composed letters to manufacturers, letters to his sister, and letters to his children.   His descriptions flowed over and around customers who came into his furniture store during the day to browse or buy.  He preferred them to buy, of course.  He didn’t follow them around the store.  He let them browse, and he wrote about their behaviors, which were usually what one expects of customers, but occasionally the odd duck would arouse his humor, and he was a funny man.

His letters were as much about his captivation with form and visual beauty of penmanship as with news. The formation of letters and words with haughty flourishes and steep peaks and swooning u’s and y’s were as much cursive art as news of his and mother’s day.   His fat red fountain pen was legend in our family.  He would invite me to watch him fill it from the ink bottle.  That, too, was a ritual he and his stool shared.  Our father would settle the bottle of black ink on the glass counter and sidle the golden tip of his fat red pen into the reservoir and lift the gold lever built into the side of the instrument.  My father, gingerly wielding the lever, would cause his pen to drink like a humped camel from the bottle and fill its black rubber bladder with the fluid that formed his words.  It was a delicate, nearly religious experience.  I wish I had asked my father why the filling of his pen was such an important ritual, but I didn’t. I imagine now he would have had much to tell me.

Red Pen

On the occasion of one of his pen-fillings, I asked him what his favorite word was, and without hesitation, he replied, “swimming.”  “Why?” I asked.  “What’s so special about that word?”   With his fat, full pen held in his hand properly, with the golden blade extending the proper distance from his fingertips, he swirled out the word “swimming” on a clean sheet of letterhead.  His beige paper was expensive, so I knew this lesson was important. The word on the beige paper was at once a mountain range of peaks and valleys. It was a brook of swells and waves formed by w’s and m’s and n’s and i’s excited by the wind.  My father painted the word “swimming” for me.

Cursive W

When I’m missing my father, like this morning, with my dime store pen, I write his word.  Swimming.  I can’t swirl the peaks and valleys and and ripples the way he did, but for the long moment when my pen is trying to be his pen, we are sitting together at the glass counter.

A cursive “swimming” has been my favorite word since that day in my father’s store.  I see the glass counter and beige paper and his strong hand holding his fat red pen. Wherever I am, and I’m missing him, I write out his word. He and I have shared his favorite word hundreds of times over the years.

By Tim Hoyt

Tim says “It seems like I’ve been an Encore and now OLLI member ever since Uncle Rex punctured his wrist on the cow yoke. I retired from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1999, and moved to NC a year later. I grudgingly maintain our house and yard in fair shape, and happily stay in touch with the kids in Wisconsin via “dad’s daily letter.” But mostly, I focus on keeping my mind in good shape with OLLI classes and by writing. Lots and lots of writing. Tim leads three Special Interest Groups – Readers Theater, OLLI Questions Across the Spectrum and the OLLI Family Stories Writers Group




Chair Yoga at OLLI


Chair Yoga lge

Many adults aged 50+ in the greater Raleigh area eagerly await the opening of registration for OLLI at NC State University’s fall program of classes, lectures and study trips – coming soon! In the meantime OLLI member, Barbara Haddad Ryan, highlights one that took place earlier in the year….

Among the enticing offerings in the spring 2017 OLLI catalog was one that offered different benefits from any other course: “Adaptive Chair Yoga — All Bodies Feel Better.” What, many members must have wondered, is that? Simple: It uses a chair “to sit, stand and move with more comfort and stability.” This is exactly what students discovered, in the welcome atmosphere inside the JC Raulston Arboretum.

The instructor was Howie Shareff — make that Dr. Shareff — whose lively personality and sense of humor made every class an experience in physical and emotional uplift. A native of Queens, N.Y., Howie majored in chemistry in college and decided on a career in dentistry because he liked his family’s dentist. He came to North Carolina in 1977 to study dentistry at UNC, and first heard about yoga there when a college hygiene instructor offered some classes. But he didn’t try it until one of his patients recruited him as a student in 1996.

And Howie needed it. Initially arthritis — part of family history — was only a minor problem. But poor posture was unavoidable in treating patients, and eventually he couldn’t raise his right arm above his head. “So I used yoga,” he said, “but also surgeries and plenty of additional therapies.” So for 25 years he practiced dentistry, first in eastern North Carolina and since 1984 near Cameron Village. Eventually, however, the arthritis caught up with him, along with sports trauma from football as a teenager, the repetitive motion of triathlon training in his 30s, and a collision playing softball in his 40s, along with the posture required in his work, and the physical and mental demands of owning a dental business.

All of this led Howie to retire early — and to start a truly unusual second career. He studied Chair Yoga with Lakshmi Voelker in 2008, and was certified that year in the practice. Then he received additional training in yoga for seniors from Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist based at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham. He explains that “Adaptive” refers to the use of props, not only chairs but also pillows, towels “and other creative modalities to experience a neutral spine, and let the natural curves of your bones support you without strain.”

Last spring’s course was Howie’s second for OLLI. “Chair Yoga still isn’t widely known around the country,” he said. “It’s a supplemental class in yoga studios. But in senior wellness programs it’s a foundational class.” In 2011 he wrote a how-to book and made a DVD about it: “Sit Stretch Smile” (available on Amazon), dedicated to his wife, Barbara, “for helping me maintain a fun disposition, and for a life full of love and laughter.”  She’s a psychologist and part-time yoga instructor, “but not Chair Yoga in the formal sense,” he said. They have two grown children, who “use yoga occasionally to manage stress.”

In 2010 Howie founded the nonprofit You Call This Yoga, where he’s the volunteer director and lead teacher. It provides instruction for an impressive variety of hosts, among them the Alliance Medical Ministry, the Lupus Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, diabetes support groups, Boys & Girls Club, Durham VA, and senior centers in Wake County. Last April the 8th annual Yogafest NC drew 500 participants and exhibitors to the McKimmon Center. You Call This Yoga also has a website , a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog and newsletter. Howie’s second career has turned out to be bigger than his first!

Barbara Haddad Ryan

The Gift of OLLI Membership


OLLI Member and Chair of the Advisory Council, Carol Rahmani, shared with us some of her memories of her 2016 OLLI experience. Here is an excerpt:

“So, the bulk of my time continues to be spent in …OLLI-NC State. I am in my second year of a two-year term as Chair of the OLLI Advisory Council, which entails leading the Council and attending meetings of all the standing committees within OLLI.

I enjoy my opportunities to collaborate with the stellar OLLI staff and to interact with other members who serve on committees. When I joined OLLI in 2009, I was interested in partaking of the fine course offerings, but my involvement in the organization has led to far more than that. I’ve enjoyed developing collegial relationships through committee-work, and have also established lasting and meaningful friendships with other members of what we refer to as our “community of learners.”

Last week marked the end of our fall semester courses, and on my final day of class, I attended a genetics class in the morning and a class on ancient Greece in the afternoon. ……It occurred to me at the end of that final day of the semester that, in one day, OLLI had enabled me to engage in a virtual time-travel experience spanning 2500 years, from the frontier of today’s scientific advances back in time to the Bronze Age. Wow!”

As 2016 comes to a close and you start to make plans and set goals for 2017, consider becoming more involved in the OLLI program as a volunteer. You will be making a valuable contribution to the program you love and will receive many benefits in return. Just come and visit us in the OLLI office in room 225 on the second floor of Mckimmon Center to find out what opportunities there are.

Have a wonderful holiday and we’ll see you in 2017 for another year of educational programs spanning the whole spectrum of topics and eras!

Joan Hardman-Cobb (Assistant Director, OLLI at NC State)