John Dewey, UVM Class of 1879, famously averred, "Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself." He would have been pleased to see how his dictum has been put into practice by John and Helen Newton '63 of Swanton, Vermont, for whom learning has been a lifelong passion. Now retired, the couple's enthusiastic interest in the world around them has found the perfect outlet in UVM's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
At their picture-postcard summer property on an idyllic Lake Champlain shore point, John and Helen speak with obvious pride of the Osher Institute's St. Albans lecture series, which they helped organize some six years ago and today attracts several dozen of the area's over-50 set each month. Topics this fall ranged from "Limits of Power in the Middle East" and "The Lake Champlain Bridge Project" to "Vermont Politics as we Enter the 2010 Election Year." Speakers are drawn from an eclectic slate of authors, researchers, artists, scholars, political figures - people with a good story to tell and preferably a Vermont connection, says John.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) was established in Vermont
in 2003 when UVM received a grant from California's Bernard Osher Foundation to develop courses and programs for Vermonters age 50 and over. The University received three subsequent grants followed by a $1 million endowment in October, 2006, to permanently establish the Institute at UVM. Institutes now exist in eight Vermont communities — Brattleboro, Rutland, Montpelier, Newport/Derby/Stanstead, Springfield, St. Albans, Lamoille Valley, and St. Johnsbury.
The Newtons' involvement with OLLI is one way they have chosen to express their belief in the importance of education and those who provide it. Another is the charitable remainder trust they established to benefit each of their alma maters — Norwich University, where John earned his degree in mechanical engineering, and UVM, where Helen earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees in English. Half of the trust will be used to establish the Helen W. Newton Scholarship Fund at UVM, with interest awarded annually to a student from Windham or Franklin counties in Vermont.
Helen spent more than three decades as an English teacher at Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans, where she estimates she taught upwards of 3,500 students over those years. She was the first in her family to earn a college degree and benefited from scholarship support herself to do so. "It seemed only fair that I should return it so someone else can use it," she says. Then, like most good teachers, she summarizes. "I like teenagers. They're some of the best people in the world. They're idealistic. They still think they can change the world. Well, maybe one of them will."