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Talking about the times

Class at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center discusses current events every Monday 10-11 a.m.

Posted: August 15, 2010 2:13 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2010 4:30 a.m.

William Stehle holds up a copy of The Signal while he talks about headlines in the news during a recent meeting of a current-events discussion group at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

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“Bring your newspaper and your opinions!” read a flyer for the new Monday morning current-events discussion group at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, which takes place from 10-11 a.m. every Monday.  

Attendees did just that. Typically between 10 and 15 people usually go to the class, but on this particular Monday, turnout was light.  The group’s regular teacher, retired judge Ron Gruen, was away, and Bill Stehle, a class regular, filled his spot.

That didn’t make the conversation any less lively. Everything from the cleanup of the Gulf Coast to Lindsay Lohan’s prison sentence was fair game.

“I feel sorry for all the people who were affected by this,” said Ginger Freed, a loyal class attendee, in reference to the oil spill. “How are they going to support their families?”  

Several others spoke up before the topic shifted a few times and then settled on something that really fired the group up — the city of Bell. Not everyone present was aware of the goings-on in Bell, so John P. Stam first explained the situation in the simplest way possible.

“The city of Bell is full of crooks!” he said.

Stehle then offered a more comprehensive account of the issue, illustrating the exorbitantly high salaries of the city’s officials and the heated reactions from Bell’s taxpayers. Everyone expressed disgust with the scandal, questioning how it happened and how things got that far.

This kind of dialogue is what keeps Freed coming back.

“We enjoy the interaction, we like hearing about current events and we enjoy the people,” Freed said.

Freed and her husband, Jack, along with Stehle and Stam, formed a semicircle around stacks of newspapers in the small room where the class was held as they chatted about the issues of the week.

Stehle said he encouraged a discussion group where opinions flowed freely — even the dissenting views were welcomed. He questioned what attendees said, pushing them to think even more deeply about the issues.

The class was outspoken enough to challenge their moderator when he brought up something they were not interested in discussing, such as the war in Afghanistan. Rather than giving in to Stehle’s persistence, attendees simply uttered “no comment” whenever he posed a question, until the topic was dropped.

“The class is still finding itself,” Stehle said. “It is still in the phase of development.”

Normally when Gruen is there, the class also watches a documentary about something prominent in the news.  Most recently, the topic was Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financial advisor and stockbroker who swindled clients out of substantial investments through a Ponzi scheme, the largest in the country to date.

As the class wrapped up, Stehle pointed out an article he had seen about Alzheimer’s disease that said one-in-eight people will be affected by the disease.  With a chuckle, he noted that since there were only four of them, no one in the room would get it.

Though Stehle was joking when he pretended to read the article, saying “Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, but Jack and Ginger, John and Bill will not get it,” he hit on something important.

Recent research by the National Institute of Health indicates that although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, physical activity, a Mediterranean diet and staying socially and intellectually engaged may help stave off the disease.

“Having many friends and acquaintances, and participating in many social activities also is associated with reduced cognitive decline and decreased risk of dementia in older adults,” said the NIH in a written report on Alzheimer’s disease prevention strategies.

In addition to enjoying a lively discussion, seniors in the group are also staying active socially and engaging their minds by reading, thinking about and discussing current events.

The Freeds, who both retired two years ago, heard about the group while participating at the “Live, Love, Laugh” class at the center on Fridays. They now attend the current-events meetings regularly before going out for breakfast.

Jack Freed said he enjoys the meetings because they are interesting. He and his wife agreed that both Gruen and Stehle were great instructors and very knowledgeable.  

Besides substituting for the current-events group, Stehle is very active at the Senior Center. He substitutes for various meetings and also started a chess class. For other seniors looking for a more active life, Stehle had some advice.

“Just come to the Senior Center, look at the schedule and get involved,” he said.

The current-events discussion group meets Mondays at 10 a.m. in the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, 22900 Market St., Newhall. For more information, call (661) 259-9444.

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