Never Retire Your Spirit

06 Feb 2022

Photography and film history courses makes life innovative for these lifelong scholars

By Kevin Lewis  »  Photos by Brandon Williams

At Sandhills Community College, the instructors in the Center for Creative Living encounter many well-educated retired business and advertising executives, military officers and small business owners from the towns of the Sandhills Triad (Aberdeen, Pinehurst and Southern Pines) who are intellectually curious and gifted. Thus, teaching retirees in continuing education is a circular experience rather than just a student-teacher one.

Often, the perpetual students want to explore humanities courses they could not pursue in their careers. This article explores those who are enrolled in photography and film history courses offered by John Patota, Dale Moegling and me.

I teach film history, which is an outgrowth of my career as a feature writer and reporter for several film magazines and two Hollywood guilds, the Directors Guild of America and the Motion Picture Editors Guild. Despite the odds of attracting people to black and white and silent films, enrollment has been above average.

I am amazed at the variety of career experiences among the scholars. Judy McCaffrey was a video editor for the television arm of the ministry of Norman Vincent Peale in New York. She was also a nurse at New York University Medical Center and took advantage of free course tuition for employees to enroll in film and video editing courses at New York University. She became friends with film producer Joseph E. Levine and developed an interest in film history. When she and her husband Dane moved to Pinehurst, she worked for First Health, and is active with Given Memorial Library.

Dan Hansell takes many courses at SCC, including political and military histories and film history courses. During his lifetime, he pursued three careers in business, including CEO of Hansell Bellingham. For six years, he was a Continental Football League football player. At 85, he still flies his light plane, and at 75 flew his previous light plane across the United States over 18 days. His primary reasons for taking classes are that he never could do so in his busy career and "learning new things without the pressure of exams."

Sometimes, the special knowledge of a student can alter the syllabus of a course. I taught a course recently on the post-World War II influence of the American Westerns of John Ford on the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa in Japan, the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone in Italy starring Clint Eastwood, and Eastwood’s own films. Elsie “Pidgie” Chapman asked me about the Westerns of noted Hollywood studios director Delmar Daves, whom she had known as a close friend of her family. I included a Daves Western starring Gary Cooper and discovered that Cooper was more of a prime link between Kurosawa, Leone, and Eastwood than was previously discussed by film historians because of the obvious link between Ford and John Wayne.  

Allied with film is photography, and Patota keeps his students abreast of all the technological developments.  He teaches photography fundamentals and added cell phone technology this year. DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras are still popular for art photography, however a growing number of photographers want to master cell phones to chronicle the lives of their families and friends and to document trips and cruises.

"I often say that I learn as much from the students as they learn from me," says Patota. He remembers a chef he once had in his class, whose name he doesn't recall, who would photograph food, but would cut off the image of the whole dish, just the details of the food he wanted. This intrigued Patota, who likes to have the image breathe, meaning space around the photograph, but he accepted it as an artistic choice.

Patota, who is also a sports photographer for golf tournaments and a former news photographer for the on-line Sandhills Sentinel, had extended this principle to his work. "In sports photography often you want to show the whole athlete," but he photographs events also in four shots: establishing shot (meaning a long shot of the two players and their caddies on the green), wide shot (closer to the players), tight shot (the golfer in a swing), and details (an emblemed hat with a logo). In his classes, he instructs his students to do the same. They photograph the same subject in the same narrowing focus.

A valued student of his is Richard Shearer, who is well known in the Sandhills as the former owner of Jewels of Pinehurst Inc, which he operated for 28 years. His interest in photography dates from his military service as a photographer on a submarine. As a gemologist, he used a Polaroid Land camera to document jewelry for customers for insurance purposes. But microphotography became an interest, and he now uses his camera for artistic reasons. He uses an iPhone 7 with an upgrade interest to iPhone 13. His current instructors Patota and Moegling, as well as past ones, have given him the opportunity to learn about technology. "I have learned to do more as a microphotographer." And the pandemic gives him the opportunity, as it does for other photographers, to stay in touch with family and friends.

"The thing I admire about Richard is that he is not just centered on photography," says Patota. Shearer enrolls in a variety of classes and brings what he has learned from other disciplines to his photography.

Moegling teaches digital editing and Photoshop at SCC. His students learn the techniques of creating digital photos and slides, as well as restoring old family photos, weddings or scenes that have faded, and resizing photos. He estimates that his student ratio is 15 to 20 percent young students, 10 percent real estate agents, and the rest are retirees.

He recalls an unusual purpose for taking his course. "One student wrote books and he wanted to manipulate photos that went into comic books."

Camaraderie as well as scholarship makes life innovative for these scholars who are not retired in spirit.

Prev Post Weekend Comfort with Panache
Next Post Better Access to Nutritious Meals
Pinehurst Medical Clinic