Category Archives: Instructors

My Love Affair with Tennis

We’re keeping that tennis theme going since I don’t have a piece about football!


My Love Affair with Tennis……..

It’s all right, my wife knows and tolerates this addiction.  You might think that someone who spends hours on court almost every day would be a terrific player.  In my case, you would be wrong.  My fellow players agree that I’m slow, but I’m also clumsy.  My main strengths come from my size.  I’m 6’3” and my wide wingspan of nearly 7 feet helps me cover the net. Serving in tennis involves leverage on the ball, and tall players have more leverage.  My role model, John Isner, is the classic example of a tall man with a killer serve. In addition to being a famous tennis star, John is from Greensboro and graduated from my alma mater, UGA!


So, what do I get from tennis? Sunshine, a mixed blessing – vitamin D is good, skin cancer isn’t.  Wear sunscreen and a hat, and remember to avoid the heat of the day (11:00 am – 3:00 pm).  Night play is a cooler option, especially during Raleigh’s extended summer.  Another benefit of being outside is fresher air – indoor air may be filtered but, usually, it’s more polluted than the great outdoors. Exercise – any time spent on your feet is good for your heart and other muscles.  Much of the time between points involves walking from side to side, bending over to pick up balls, and those steps can add up – I walk at least 2 miles for each hour on court. During points, we run and whack balls (great stress relievers), yell and laugh at ourselves.


Tennis is a great way to meet fun people and enjoy their company – this is especially true of the senior tennis group at the Raleigh Tennis Center (Millbrook Exchange Park) and other facilities throughout the Triangle.  Tennis is a lifetime sport – just ask the kindergartners and their great grandmothers and grandfathers


Dad and Son

Most tennis centers have coaches who will help you learn to play and improve your game.  I found that coaching helped my game, as long as I listened to the coach and practiced doing what they told me.  A key part of coaching is found in the phrase: “keep your eye on the ball.” The US Tennis Association (USTA) has a “Try Tennis” program to give beginners of any age a chance to see if tennis fits their lifestyle. Students receive a Wilson racket, six weeks of professional instruction and a “Try Tennis” T-shirt for $40.

Coaching K

Lessons learned on the court often apply to life, for example: 1) don’t think too much; 2) you may lose today, but tomorrow brings another chance for redemption; 3) there are always players better and worse than you, so do your best and enjoy the game; 4) doubles is easier on senior bodies than singles; and finally, 5) the Hopman Rule: stick your racket out and something good might happen.   See you on court!


Mark Long (OLLI Member and Volunteer Instructor)










A Different Kind of Culture: a Spring Garden!


“Pleasure, talk, a garden, and the spring time. That is all I need.”

14th century Persian poet Hafez.

   For some of us, this is the most exciting time of year when every morning, gray or shine, we head into the outdoors to see what has bloomed last night, what has grown, what has re-appeared we had forgotten about.

Those few minutes spent in the quiet, revering in total awe of what Mother Nature is showing for our appreciative pleasure. For a brief moment, forget about the world’s woes and commune with our amniotic environment.

According to a number of holy books, the garden (of Eden, of God) was the original paradise (from the Persian word for a walled in garden/small orchard) one that, unfortunately, was lost but not for all of us!

To this day, a garden connotes shared produce with our friends and neighbors, plants and cuttings from far away, signs of friendship that now blossom forever, the smell of fresh dirt just dug up or recently blessed by a morning rain. In my case, this is the place where neighborhood kids would play hide and seek among bamboos and banana plants they would nickname “the jungle”. While all have grown but left behind great memories, more recently our neighbors’ grandchildren fill up their cheeks, chipmunk-like, with sun warmed cherry tomatoes and smile knowing this is a very special in their young life, a freedom unequalled anywhere else.

What better place to appreciate the change of seasons?

Right now, the first days of spring, every morning is a discovery of bulbs buried last fall showing (if they have survived the squirrels) their fantastic colors: wild tulips from far away Turkey, daffodils hated by deer but loved by poets “When all at once I saw a crowd, -A host, of golden daffodils;-Beside the lake, beneath the trees,-Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” (WILLIAM WORDSWORTH). Soon they’ll be followed by self-seeded larkspurs, poppies, corn flowers and perennials lilies, daisies, cone flowers.

Flower with bees

For most, summer is the best time to appreciate because of harvest such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, fresh corn, beans, crunchy cucumbers and, above all, that still warm from the sun tomato that does not make it to the house, savored right there where it grew. Sunflowers are among my favorites for their wild colors, shapes and sizes (no longer your grandma’s monochromatic yellow) followed by tens of gold finches eager to snack on those seeds. It is also a time for butterflies but, to my chagrin, their numbers have shrunk even in a garden like mine geared for their survival.


Fall is the time for all small fruit like figs and grapes, the time when you call on your jam-making friends to give you a hand before the garden slowly goes to sleep under the first frost while the gardener starts dreaming about next year’s growth, with new varieties to grow and some favorites to repeat. We gardeners are dreamers, always living six months or more ahead of our own time, always planning for what is to come.

For those who do not have their own piece of land to appreciate, you can always do like my friend Anne and paint someone else’s:


Roland Menestres (OLLI Member and Instructor)

For those who would like to see more pictures:


Betsy The Car

Chevy Sign

In 1953 my father bought our first car. It was a 1935 Chevrolet with large metal spoke rims and a hint of a running board on each side. The tires were what were known as white walls.  The car was royal blue.

My mother was leery of cars and in particular the one my father bought to surprise her, since we lived in New York City and took public transportation everywhere. In 1953 there were few private cars on the road and almost none on our block.  No other neighbors in our building owned a car.

It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. My sister and I just stood and gawked at the sleek, movie-star vehicle. It was like the getaway car in an Edwin G. Robinson movie. Elegant, not at all like the long, super finned modern cars in 1953.

White Wall Tire

“You would not believe the deal I got,” Dad said to us. Mom had a skeptical look on her face and kept glancing between Dad and the car. “It belonged to a school teacher who only drove it on weekends.  My boss lives next door to her and he told me she was selling this car and I went over to look at it and, wow!   I drove it around the block and it is perfect.  I paid her cash and picked it up today.”

Now truly, in 1953 even I had seen signs in some autos that claimed to be driven only on weekends.  It was almost believable living in the city because people went picnicking and to the beaches only on the weekends in the spring and summer.  Besides, my Dad was no fool; he would know a good deal.

“You know how to drive?” my sister and I shouted almost in unison.  When, how, we never saw you drive a car?”

My mother looked at my Dad and a smile grew across her lips. “He drove a two-seater with a rumble seat in back to pick me up for our first date. The car belonged to his older brother Eddy. Your dad is quite the catch.”  Dad was beaming.

He pointed to our new prized possession, “Her name is Betsy.”

Jones Beach

And Betsy it was. She took us to beaches and on country drives and to Westchester for picnics and out to Long Island to Jones Beach. Betsy opened a world to us, or at least the world within a thirty-five mile radius of New York City. And even though we lost her a few times in the humongous overcrowded parking lot of Orchard Beach or at Coney Island, we always found our distinctive car. All we had to do was Dad hoisted me onto his shoulders to look around and point to the blue car that stood taller than any other car in the lot; our Betsy.

Geraldine Khaner Velasquez (OLLI Member, Instructor and Writer’s Group)

Outcome of Hurricane Sandy



First the back-story of how I met my cook/butler. It was early days after Hurricane Sandy; only the village center in our town of Lincroft, NJ had electricity. Dunkin Donuts had hot coffee and it was the most popular spot around. The parking lot was loaded with trucks bearing logos of every tree service for miles around. Lots and lots of trees were down, including those on my front lawn. Power lines were hanging from branches and on the ground. People had survival on their minds, as most homes nearby were still without heat and lights, to say nothing of TV, the Internet and land phone lines. I set out to get some coffee and sweets to cheer us up, driving the half mile very carefully.

Downed Trees

This improbable story started with a smile, a nod and a question. This slightly worn-looking man was next to me at the counter of Dunkin Donuts. He said “Hello.”  I met his eyes and said “Hi” back. The stranger, emboldened by my smile asked a question.  “Is there anything you would like done? “

Whatever he might have meant, an answer just popped out of my mouth, “I would like a personal chef.”  I hadn’t even realized I had that thought in my head. The man’s face lit up and he replied, “I am a personal chef, and a butler.”

You’ve just got to love it! You put the most insane things out there and the universe answers in its own dandy way. Afterwards, when we got to laugh about it, I found out his question was referring to tree removal. Did I want tree work done?  Later he revealed his background, formerly working for an English lady in NYC for twenty years as her butler and chef. He was unemployed since she died, living on a family farm in Monmouth County.

For my part, this longing for a personal chef was not a whim. I had been thinking about this, imagining food cooked at home by a professional.  Wholesome, non-fattening tasty food; probably cheaper than the meals we ate out most nights of the week. Food placed on my table without my shopping or cooking when I came home tired from work. Wouldn’t my husband love it too?  I imagined pounds melting off both of us while we experienced eye-popping luscious-tasting platters on our table.

Something primal and spontaneous within me blurted out at that moment:  What do I want? Why, of course, it was a personal chef!  Anyone could chop down my tree. I wanted a chef.


So after he cut down my trees the next day we made a date for him to prepare dinner in my home for my husband’s birthday three weeks later. It was marvelous. He set the table with flowers and candles, though the lights were back on. He cooked a gourmet meal in my kitchen and served us as if we were a Duke and Duchess. He cleaned up everything while we had brandy afterwards in the living room. It was only that once, but it was all I imagined.

Dr. Geraldine Velasquez is a member of the Ollie Writers Group. She is Professor Emerita of Art and Design and recently presented “Look at me” an art appreciation lecture at Olli.

OLLI Instructor – Renee Michelle Ragin


Renee Cropped

Renee Michelle Ragin may be unique among this year’s OLLI instructors. For one thing, she could pass for a teenager. For another, as a U.S. Foreign Service officer she had many run-ins with the feared religious police in Saudi Arabia. This was in spite of the fact that she spoke Arabic and wore the customary long abaya (Saudi women are expected to cover their bodies in a long black cloak when in public).  During the worst confrontation, she was with a U.S. Marine who was out of uniform.  Since she’s African American and he has Latin American roots, those police — and some civil police who suddenly joined them — decided both were from the Middle East and treated them accordingly. Renee argued with them for nearly an hour as crowds gathered at the restaurant complex she’d been leaving. “They were demanding that I come with them to headquarters,” she said, “but a passer-by who happened to be a Saudi diplomat finally intervened on my behalf.”

In spite of that experience, Renee said being a woman in Jeddah — Saudi’s commercial capital and arguably its most progressive city — wasn’t a problem. “Unfortunately, I think Saudi’s reputation for hostility to women — especially per U.S. cultural norms — outstrips the reality. The vast majority of my two years there were quite pleasant.  Although I’m sure this had to do with my status as a representative of the U.S. government, and the rather elite circles to which I had access, I was treated quite well by everyone I worked with.” And being a woman, she said, gave her access to circles that her male peers didn’t have.

Renee explained that “Foreign Service Officers specialize in a particular field, but we wear many hats.” For a year she issued visas and helped U.S. citizens with routine and emergency problems. She spent her second year in media relations: “I wrote speeches for senior members of our Embassy community, as well as talking points and press releases. I also conducted interviews and hosted events designed to strengthen our relationships with Saudi youth.”

Prior to her assignment in Saudi Arabia, she worked in Washington, D.C. at the State Department headquarters as a “desk officer” for several African countries. This meant being the point person on every issue in a country, and connecting with her counterparts at other federal agencies and departments. “We’re the connective tissue between the Embassy in the field and the Washington agencies and departments to whom they’re responsible,” she said. She also pinch-hit for colleagues with other portfolios, and briefly supported a task force on the conflict in Libya.

Today Renee’s life is far more tranquil as a doctoral candidate at Duke, teaching (next year she’ll teach Hannah Arendt’s “The Banality of Evil”) and researching her dissertation on the impact of Lebanon’s civil war on its national identity. And this semester she’s teaching an OLLI course: “Middle Eastern Art: Is Everything Political?” Its visual vocabulary is wide-ranging: film, artistic social media, and participation on Skype with Middle Eastern artists.  In class discussions Renee reveals high energy, a vivacious personality, and a great sense of humor.

She was born and raised in Manhattan. Her mother is a psychology professor and her father, now retired, worked in finance and philanthropy, but he’s a serious history buff. A cousin was a United Nations diplomat in Vienna. Renee attended demanding New York schools: the United Nations International School and the Bronx High School of Science. She went on to Harvard, where she studied post-colonial Latin American and Caribbean history and literature of the post-colonial era. Her senior thesis was on the role of Haitian- and Dominican-American literature on a 30-year dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. “I also dabbled in contemporary Middle Eastern literature,” she said. She was unusual in going straight from Harvard to the State Department and was the youngest Foreign Service Officer in her entering class of 100. “I’d planned to stay in the Foreign Service: I was promoted to mid-rank,” she said, “but now I’m thinking of an academic career.” A visit to Duke “felt right,” and the faculty impressed her as supportive. On top of this, she said, “I like North Carolina!”

Barbara Haddad Ryan

OLLI Instructor Spotlight – Roland Menestres


Question: What’s the second-largest nation in Africa? Answer: The Democratic Republic of Congo, once the property of a Belgian king. Its turbulent history and current challenges are the subject of a fall OLLI course, “In the Heart of Africa: The Congo.” The instructor, Roland Menestres, is well qualified to guide us through this heart of darkness. (Yes, Joseph Conrad’s classic is recommended reading.)

Roland is one of OLLI’s most cosmopolitan members. He was born at the end of World War II in war-torn Belgium, near the borders of Holland and Germany. He studied Latin with a teacher who described excavating Etruscan ruins, and Greek with a teacher “who, after school, introduced us to Japanese, Russian and Scandinavian films we could never see in a regular theater.” By age 18 he was fluent in seven languages. After serving in Belgium’s Airborne Regiment, he spent the next decade hitch-hiking across Europe, the Middle East (learning Hebrew in Israel), Asia and Australia. In 1976 he “met a pair of blue eyes in a banana field in the Galilee.” Those were American eyes, and soon he came to the U.S. to visit the lady. They were married a year later.

Roland worked for 25 years in the printing industry before deciding to complete his formal education at NC State. He earned a B.A. in French Language and Literature and became an ESL teacher in Wake County high schools, where he also taught French. “I pushed as many students as I could to learn more than one language,” he said, “since they might have to compete for jobs on an international level. It worked out for several of them.”

So where does his interest in the Congo come from? “I grew up with it,” he said. “The Congo was like my sister from a different father. I was in ninth grade when it reached independence, and I’d been exposed to it all my life, including through school notebooks with covers adorned with people, animals and heroes from the Congo. The Airborne Regiment I served in was involved with freeing hostages or re-establishing order a number of times before and after my service.”

One of the richest countries in mineral wealth, he said, the Congo “is also blessed with tremendous amounts of fresh water on a continent rapidly destroyed by droughts, and potential hydro power sufficient to electrify the whole continent. And yet it’s bleeding to death through millions of paper cuts named individual greed, political corruption, and outsiders’ hunger for rare metals at any cost, a country where blessings are matched by man’s weakness — but that could rebuild itself with a little good will and some effort.

“There’s so much we Americans don’t know about Africa in general and the Congo specifically. Is it lack of interest or self-centeredness? The reality is that our media, with few exceptions, spend more time on entertainment than real information. I keep digging through the international press to keep halfway abreast of what goes on in the rest of the world. That’s also the main reason for sharing this course with fellow OLLI members.”

Barbara Haddad Ryan

The North Carolina Museum of Art


Really, the museum is free? I marveled at the experience of walking into the
West building of the North Carolina Museum of  Art on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh and looking at the outstanding collection spread out before me like a feast. The building is light-filled, spacious, friendly, and free.

I grew up in New York City and majored in art at Hunter College. My days were filled with museum visits in Manhattan, where I became familiar to many of the guards in The Met and the Museum of Modern Art. They liked art students. The museums were free to us then and often quite empty.

My future husband courted me at the Met mainly because it was free and we could stay for hours on a Sunday rambling through rooms of furniture, jewelry and art. We imagined similar trophies in our home. We were young, but at least it helped us develop a taste for fine things even if we could not afford them.Flowers NCMA

With time these museums grew larger and became popular with local and foreign visitors now charging for the privilege of viewing the very works we thought as our property. Museum entrance fees became staggering for a newlywed couple, then parents with a growing family. On top of that was the cost of transportation into the city as we became suburbanites.

As a Professor of Art at a university in New Jersey, my love for art became my profession. What a joy to share art history with students. I was careful of the costs to myself and students when we took trips to the museums. It required careful budgeting for my department – when were still able to pay for student trips. That too became a thing of the past a good fifteen years ago.

I found myself living in the Raleigh area when we moved here just over one year ago. The first week my husband and I went to the North Carolina Museum of Art. Wow! Amazement, delight and gratitude for the gift we have. Two hundred works of world class art in this collection. The environment for viewing them is even better than the overcrowded spaces in NY; there are few officious guards monitoring your presence insisting you stand far back from the work. I have become up close and personal with Rembrandt, Gainsborough and others. Another benefit In addition to free admission is free and plentiful parking.

Retired now from teaching I felt compelled to share my enthusiasm and love for art with sculpture NCMAother Olli students. With so much available in the museum, including docent tours, I have framed my lecture to help prepare Olli visitors to get the most out of your visit. You can look for my offering in February. It’s called “Look at Me”





Dr. Geraldine Velasquez, Professor of Art and Design Emeritus