[ COVER STORY ]
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Robert Schoch attends a Religion 600 (History and Theory of the Study of Religion) class in Sakamaki Hall at the University of Hawaii. "It is very challenging. This is what life's about," he says.
planner finds real
treasures in UH classes
» Sybil Gier
» Helmi Wilby
» Ronald Hansen
Early retirement has given former financial consultant Robert (Bob) Schoch of Kaneohe what he calls "real treasures."
The 63-year-old said he always wanted to read works of Thoreau and other great authors. Now he's not only reading those and others, but discussing them with fellow students and professors at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
Schoch has been auditing courses for three or four years. "I take some of the more rigorous courses," he said, including some offered in the honors program.
"It is very challenging. This is what life's about, what I always wanted to do."
Schoch has an undergraduate degree in chemistry, and he went to law school but veered into financial planning. He came here in 1971 from the Midwest to manage a company and stayed.
He said he used to go to lectures on topics that interested him and at one on mysticism was invited by the professor to attend his class.
"I saw somebody else with gray hair," he said with a laugh, explaining he's been taking courses ever since. He said professors are "very good about letting me be there. They know I'm there because I want to (be)."
He's auditing five courses now, which he admits is "a little overwhelming" because he prepares for them, even though he doesn't have to take exams or do papers.
"I'm kind of an anomaly," he said. "Most people take one class, which probably makes more sense."
He knows he's taking too much if it interferes with his daily workouts at the YMCA, he said.
"Real satisfaction comes out of being involved with other students," he said, noting that he meets people from all over and has visited fellow students during mainland travels.
"It's an opportunity to really be intergenerational," he said. Younger students ask his advice on business and other matters, and they've taught him about computers and their genre of music and films, he said.
Schoch said his wife, Fay, human resources manager for the Norwegian Cruise Line, and their four children, ranging from 25 to 39 years old, "support me 100 percent.
"It's a way to stay young. I have to pinch myself to know I'm not 18."
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Earning high school
diploma is a lesson
for her grandson
After a highly successful career at one of the world's largest engineering firms, 81-year-old Sybil Gier hardly needs a high school diploma.
But she said she wanted to emphasize to a teenage grandson and other kids that they won't get anywhere these days without a high school diploma and college education.
Gier, of Kailua, said her grandson "was very impressed" when she received her diploma a few months ago. But he asked, "Why? Look at what you've accomplished in your lifetime."
She said she dropped out of high school at age 16 because she was bored and students didn't have to stay in school then until they were 18. She went to business school for two years but "soon found out that I wasn't going to be a secretary."
She worked at a civil service job at Hickam, then went to Bechtel Corp. in San Francisco in 1954. She started as an engineering aide and worked herself up to administrative positions that now require engineering degrees.
Gier said she's proud of her accomplishments, but without a high school diploma and college degree nowadays, "They won't even look at you when you walk into that place."
She said she couldn't go to night school to study for a General Educational Development diploma because she has an adopted 11-year-old daughter. (She also has four children and seven grandchildren.)
So she relied on her knowledge to pass the GED tests at McKinley Community School for Adults, she said, commending the adult education system.
"I told my 11-year-old, I'm not only doing this for my grandson, I really want to go back to school. I love math. I want to take something, I don't know what."
Gier said she had always gone to night classes and "went crazy" when she retired because she had nothing to do.
She did volunteer work as a mediator, children's advocate in Family Court and English tutor for foreign wives at the Marine base.
She also had real estate and broker's licenses and sold real estate for a while.
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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rebecca Goodman talks with student Helmi Wilby, 93, during an open house at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Hawaii.
Age is no learning barrier
for 92-year-old woman
Signing up for classes at the University of Hawaii-Manoa was "one of the really wonderful things to do for myself," said Helmi Wilby.
"Coming here (to Hawaii) was the other one."
Wilby, 92, began taking part in a painting group with instructor George Woollard shortly after she and her husband arrived in 1985 from California.
"I had always wanted, all my life, to do watercolors, but I was always too busy," said the retired third-grade teacher. "When I came here and realized it was available through the university, I signed up for it."
Now a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Manoa campus, Wilby is going to a poetry class and participates in a writing circle.
She said she's trying to write stories about her childhood with her brother on a farm in Deep River, Wash.
"I'm writing about our adventures together, fishing and trapping and bringing cows home for milking. It's kind of fun to reminisce," she said, adding that she started writing only three years ago.
In her small writing circle, participants give copies of their stories to other members who critique them, she said. At the next meeting, they read part of the story to share with the group, she said.
"It's really enjoyable, and when everybody likes it, it gives you such a high. You feel so good the rest of the day," added Wilby, who lives in a Diamond Head-area apartment.
Her poetry is mostly about nature, she said. "I write it anywhere where the muse strikes me. It is very simple."
Wilby said she'd like to study astronomy and all kinds of other things, "but there just isn't time for everything."
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LUCY PEMONI / STAR-BULLETIN
Ronald Hansen shows his Bachelor's of Science degree in business administration he earned at Hawaii Pacific University.
Car dealer, 59, gets degree
after long college break
When Ronald Hansen moved to Hawaii from Portland, Ore., in 1967 after two years of college, he promised himself he would finish someday.
"Then I got busy and started raising a family and never got around to it," said the Enchanted Lake resident. "I said when my (three) kids get through college, I'm going back and get my degree."
Hansen, 59, a partner in three auto dealerships, and his daughter, Wainani, had a double celebration in January.
She graduated from Chapman University in California with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, and he graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.
He went to night school for four years at HPU, which he said "really worked for me. It offered a very good way for me to get back involved in taking courses and earning my credits."
He said some courses helped with the businesses -- King Windward Nissan, Infinity of Honolulu and King Auto Center on Kauai.
With no algebra for more than 30 years, he said he didn't do well on his first quiz in calculus. He thought about taking a refresher algebra course, then decided to try it on his own. "I just worked hard at it and pulled a passing grade on it."
He said he met "great fellow students," and the experience was "very rewarding. ... It's most fulfilling, keeping a promise you made to yourself."
Hansen said his wife, Elizabeth, who works at Kamehameha Schools, thinks his achievement is "great." His partner, Charley King, and employees were very supportive, he said. "I think my job suffered a little bit while doing it, but they put up with me."
His attorney gave him a "degree in the school of hard knocks" on the day of commencement, he said.
Between evening classes and three businesses, Hansen said it seemed like he didn't have any free time while going to school.
"I think I'll take a break for a while, and I may go back for a master's."