Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 42
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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From Islam to Wordsworth to “Genesis”: Evergreen Forum Celebrates 10 Years

Ellen Gilbert

“My best guess for ten years out is that Evergreen Forum will still be flourishing, attracting outstanding leaders, and a varied and enthusiastic group of participants of all ages,” said cofounder Carolyn Wilson of the ten-year old volunteer organization that offers life-long learning opportunities to area residents.

The earliest and most recent Evergreen Forum brochures are a study in contrasts. The one from Spring 2001, the year of the organization’s founding, is an austere, not particularly well-formatted effort with plain black lettering on ordinary white paper. This fall’s class listing is in eye-catching shades of green on glossy paper, and even the tree depicted on the cover seems to have flourished from the skinny line drawing that appeared in the 2001 rendition. Although the offerings since 2001 have grown from four to 18 courses, the group’s stated goals remain essentially the same: to provide “stimulating daytime study and discussion programs for adults,” and to encourage “active participation for those enjoy learning for its own sake.”

To mark its tenth anniversary, the Evergreen Forum will hold a party on Friday, November 5, from 4 to 6 p.m. at its home base, The Princeton Senior Resource Center at 45 Stockton Street. Instructors and students — past, present, and prospective — are invited to enjoy wine, cheese, hors d’oeuvres, cake, and “good fellowship.” Photographs, such as those of longtime instructor Barbara Herzberg putting her students through their paces in “Off the Page” class readings of classic plays, as well as images of students examining Civil War artifacts and discussing astronomical precepts will be on display, documenting the group’s rich and varied history.

“When we started the Evergreen Forum ten years ago we clearly met the need of the community for a serious, daytime educational opportunity,” recalled founding member Judith Pinch.

In honor of the volunteer organization’s decennial, several members of the Evergreen Forum community (sometimes referred to as “Evergreen Groupies”) spoke about the significance of an enterprise that has offered advanced, small, interactive classes on topics ranging from “Gustav Stickley and The Arts and Crafts Movement,” to “Geographical Links — Landscapes,” to “French Plays of the 1940s.” The most popular offerings, reported Ms. Wilson, include a class on Islam, Ms. Herzberg’s “Play it Off the Page” courses, and a class on The Book of Genesis, for which 78 people signed up. With a limit of 24 per class, a lottery was held to determine the attendees.

“Evergreen Forum has meant to me a chance to learn in all the scholarly areas that I couldn’t study up to now, notably Shakespeare’s use of language, King James’s version of the Bible, and Elizabethan life-ways,” wrote Princeton University Anthropology Professor Emerita Hildred Geertz.

“The Evergreen Forum has been a ‘lifesaver’ for me during the ten years since I retired,” commented Mo Johnson-Laird, another Princeton affiliate. “I have attended mainly literature and poetry courses, including two courses on James Joyce, which were highlights for me, because they resulted in a life-long passion for the work of that author. These daytime classes provide the opportunity for broad discussion in a congenial atmosphere.”

An important impetus for starting the program, according to Ms. Wilson, was the fact that even though local residents were permitted to attend classes at Princeton University, “you can’t talk when you’re just auditing.”

Examining continuing education programs across the country, she and Ms. Pinch found “inspiration” in a program that was affiliated with Harvard University.

While Princeton University, “wasn’t interested,” the Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC), headed at the time by Jan Marmor, was. Between Ms. Marmor’s enthusiasm, and, Ms. Wilson emphasized, the availability of good parking, the Evergreen Forum had found a home. Now students not only speak up — they speak out, and the sheer noisiness of Ms. Herzberg acting ensembles has gotten them booted out of the PSRC building and into a meeting place at Harriet Bryan House. In addition to their volume, “Off the Page” classes are challenging because “everybody wants a part in whatever play is being read. I can’t do Beckett or Albee,” said Ms. Herzberg citing playwrights who typically write for smaller casts. “And some people want to play all the parts.”

Other off-site classes, like a film series and a Wordsworth discussion group, take place at venues like the Princeton Public Library. Whatever the location, students are asked to evaluate each course when it is over.

Evergreen Forum instructors, who include retired Princeton, College of New Jersey, State University of New York, and Rutgers faculty; lawyers; business people; and independent scholars like writer Elizabeth Socolow, are not paid for their once-a week, two-hour classes that run from eight to ten weeks. The students’ $55 fee for each course is turned over to the PSRC, which provides bookkeeping and other administrative services. In addition to students from the Princeton area, people come from “Pennsylvania, the Windsors, and Lawrenceville,” reported Ms. Herzberg.

“It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve had a lot of fun,” said Ms. Wilson.

To learn more go to, or visit the main page of the PSRC, and click on “Evergreen Forum.”

Those who plan to attend the November 5 event are asked to RSVP by calling (609) 924-7108 before October 25.

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