For 30 years, the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) has been a member-driven, self-supporting organization at Edmonds College that aims to provide affordable, quality lifelong learning opportunities to adults in a supportive environment. CRI offers classes in the arts and entertainment, health and science, history and current events, literature, nature, philosophy, technology, and everything in between.
The Edmonds program has developed a following of devoted supporters like Carol Crawford, who attend classes regularly and volunteers to serve on committees that sustain its success.
“Being retired and joining CRI is as much fun and rewarding as helping to build airplanes,” said Crawford, who began taking classes after retiring from Boeing in 2002. “I was an English major in college, and so I obviously like reading, but I’m really at heart a math and science person. I’m getting to take those classes without the risk of getting a failing grade because we don’t have grades.
“Taking classes from well-educated, scientific, and mathematical geniuses is tremendous. They’re great people.”
Crawford is a firm believer in lifelong learning. Embroidered on one of her sweatshirts is the quote, “The truly educated never graduate. You keep learning.” When she retired, she was determined to keep her mind active and continue learning about subjects that interested her. She found her post-retirement educational calling at CRI.
“The first class I took, Dorothy Jennings came up to me after the second session and said, ‘You know, we like our students to volunteer to help out CRI.’ And with a little gentle arm twisting, she said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be on one of our volunteer committees?’” recalled Crawford.
“Twenty years later, I’m chair of the curriculum committee, thanks to Dorothy. She convinced me that’s what CRI was basically about.”
Jennings was a CRI participant from its inception until she died in 2021 at the age of 96. Like Crawford, she was a voracious learner and thrived in the campus environment. She was particularly passionate about Latin American history and would supplement her learning with trips to the area. She also volunteered to organize class schedules and was legendary for arranging 32 or more classes by hand without any overlap in less than 15 minutes.
“She was convinced that lifelong learning was one of the most important things people could do once they retired, rather than sit at home and watch TV,” said Crawford.
“She went to 42 different countries,” estimated former CRI chair and friend Bill Keppler. “She told me all about her wonderful experiences in Latin America, the culture, the language, the flora and fauna, and about the history of any particular country and how the United States was involved with that country. Dorothy would have been a wonderful ambassador from the United States to any of the Latin American countries.”
Several years before Jennings’ death, she shared with Keppler that she wanted to leave a large portion of her estate to CRI. Keppler forgot about that conversation and was shocked when he learned that Jennings followed through and bequeathed over $700,000 to ensure the sustainability of the program she loved.
“She was a very generous, straightforward, open person who had a very brilliant mind and loved academics and wanted to share her knowledge with everybody,” said Keppler, who has been active in CRI for 15 years. “She always had time for everybody. She was never rushed. And she was just amazing to me.”
Jennings’ generosity will help ensure that CRI can thrive for years to come. She shared with Keppler that her wishes were to see the class instructors receive competitive pay raises and that her donation would fund luncheons with distinguished speakers.
CRI will acknowledge Jennings’ legacy during its 30th Anniversary Celebration, open to the public on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2-4 p.m., at Woodway Hall on the campus of Edmonds College. She loved gatherings like the anniversary celebration when participating in CRI, but Crawford and Keppler think Jennings would downplay all the fuss made over her.
“She did not like being in the limelight. She liked having a hand in making the decisions and moving things forward,” Crawford said. “Dorothy would go, ‘Oh, gosh, you know, it’s just what you’re supposed to do.’ That would be Dorothy’s reaction.”
“She was just a very humble person,” added Keppler. “I don’t think she would like the attention. She probably would not like things named after her, but we owe that to her because she gave her whole life savings for this program.”
To learn more about the CRI, view a fall 2023 brochure, or sign up for classes, visit edmonds.edu/cri.