Are stellar schools for Maplewood’s children high on your list of priorities? Of course.
How about a great school for adults, where you can update what you already know, or plunge into the adventure of a brand-new skill or field of knowledge? That’s why the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School exists. From the seeds of its inception in 1933, when there were few, if any, similar programs anywhere in the United States, our Adult School focused on the need for continuing education.
During its first years, planning for, participating in and raising financial support for the Adult School involved prominent residents and organizations. The Strollers, Maplewood’s then brand-new dramatic group, provided financial support for the program’s first offerings in 1934-5. During that academic year, 22 courses were offered free except for the cost of necessary materials.
The next year expanded the offerings and provided for registration and fees, which were $1.50 for residents of Maplewood or South Orange and $2.00 for everyone else. The program featured ‘entertainments’ such as the annual play by the Maplewood Strollers. Also presented were topical forums and lectures by distinguished professors from such colleges and universities as New York University, Lehigh, Princeton, Yale, Lafayette and Stevens Institute.
Over the years, the School drew public figures as speakers to educate attendees with lectures on timely economic and social issues. Classes ranged from accounting and advertising to Beethoven and Wagner, tap dancing, women’s money affairs, crime detection, Spanish, lip leading, and the ever-popular “Understanding our Children.”
Old catalogues can be read as a social history of the United States as well as a Who’s Who of political, cultural and academic movers and shakers drawn from all over the country as well as from Maplewood and South Orange.
The courses, designed so that adults could continue their education, especially in times of changes in government and society, grew in scope to keep pace with emerging tastes and technologies. From the latest in cooking and gardening and woodworking to the leading edge of business theory and technology, the Adult School has always been right on target.
Jane Jasper, President of the Adult School Board of Trustees from 1980 —86, comments, “People always like to serve on the Board, and the Curriculum Committee is always popular. When we design courses and recruit teachers and lecturers, we always aim high.” She notes that well known experts and performers such as historian David McCullough and jazz pianist Dick Hyman have accepted invitations to educate and entertain.
Jasper points out that in 1933, at the beginning of the Adult School’s history, people were starving. They could no longer afford to go to New York for culture, and so the Adult School brought cosmopolitan culture to their home community.
It was an idea whose time was ripe, and six and a half decades later it’s still a keeper: Last spring’s catalogue offered over 1 50 courses, and new ones are being offered evezy term. As the twentieth century counts down its final months, Maplewood and South Orange residents can point with pride not merely to their larger-than-ever Adult School, but also to their own performing arts center, a professional theatre group, an amateur opera company, and the now long-established Strollers.
“Being on the Board has always been like having another family,” says Jane. “We had wonderful social events. For instance, to mark the retirement from the Directorship of Don Hamingson in 1995, we had a party catered by ‘Celebrated Food’ in the High School library. We also had parties and receptions in conjuction with lectures and courses.”
In 1988, Maplewood Matters Magazine editor Karen Duncan enrolled in an introductory course in computers taught by Steve Baron, who is now is with Paper Folio, a graphics firm. "Without his early teaching I probably would not have acclimated that quickly to the computer,” Karen says. "The Adult School let me get my feet wet, and I could afford it.”
It is no surprise that the Adult School began several years ago to plan for a Millennium Celebration. This past spring it presented the first of portion of the three year project which featured a lecture series entitled Celebrating the Past: Great Achievements of the Past. Lecturers and panelists, with audience participation, discussed the wide spectrum of twentieth century happenings in the areas of science and technology, social movements and reform, politics and economics, medicine and the arts.
In designing the lecture series, the committee diligently observed Hegel’s admonition that “We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.’ Panelists included local figures such as former Mayor Robert Grasmere, Rowland Bennett, Director of the Maplewood Public Library, David Alexander , Columbia High School student and Sheila Murphy, a lawyer who serves as an Adult School Trustee.
Among others from the wider world, Schuyler Chapin, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Ulysses Dietz, a resident of Maplewood and Curator for Decorative Arts at the Newark Museum, have contributed their ideas. And Dr. Ralph Buultjens, Professor of Politics, History and Economics at NYU and the New School, and also a well-known commentator for CNN, ABC and the BBC, lectured on world politics and economics.
This fall the Millenium Celebration will shift to focusing on the leaders and leadership of the 2Oth Century and their roles in shaping change and transforming our lives. Dr. Buultjens will again speak, this time on Leaders of Destiny: Lessons for Politics Today. Also in the fall forum lineup will be Maplewood resident and NJN reporter Anisa Mehdi, moderating a panel discussion of The Principals of Principle: Ethical Leaders of the 20th Century
Combining learning with travel, the seaside and jazz, the South Orange Maplewood Adult School is presenting A Weekend With Ideas at Cape May, November 12-14. Subtitled “Creative Breakthroughs in Politics: Past. Present and the 21st Century;” the program will take place at the newly restored Hotel Alcott, a grand hotel in the Victorian seaside tradition, located steps from the Atlantic Ocean.
Besides the lectures by Dr. Neal Riemer, the Andrew V. Stout Professor of Political Philosophy, Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Drew University, who will also lead the discussions, the weekend also features a walking tour of Cape May with an architecture guide. The Cape May Jazz Festival will take place on Friday and Saturday evenings.
For more details about the two special events above, as well as course offerings throughout the year, call the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School Mondays through Fridays at 378- 7620.
Long-time Maplewood resident Irene Tiersten is writing a play, scheduled/or production in the 2000-2001 season, that revolves around an Adult School lecture.