When I'm Sixty-four

Jul 21, 2017

Father Louis J. Putz

I’m turning 64 next week. It’s an age I’ve given more thought to than most, because of the Beatle song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” You know, “When I get older losing my hair many years from now,” that song that I’ve been hearing since I was 14. That future, that seemed so far away, not that long ago, that’s next week.           

My grandfather was 64 the year I was born.       

He was born in 1888. I suppose that over the course of his life, that even though Pop knew Civil War veterans, sent his sons to fight in World War II, and died the year Richard Nixon resigned, most of the day-to-day of what he felt inside was the same no matter how old he was.  We develop some calluses and learn to be cautious in some ways, and carefree in others, but we only get the one basket for our eggs. That’s how I feel, anyway.           

When I was 14, I imagined I’d be a different person now, but as it turned out, in here, I’m the same guy, just older, 64. The instincts that drew me then draw me now.           

I’ll be teaching a class on the Holocaust through the Forever Learning Institute this fall again, for the third time since I retired from New Prairie High School two years ago. I learn as I teach in an effort to approach understanding with my students. I hope it’s a good experience for them. It is rewarding for me.           

Father Louis J. Putz was 64 when he started the Forever Learning Institute, back in 1974, the year Pop died. He stayed involved in Forever Learning until he died, in 1998 at the age of 89.          

According to the Forever Learning website, Father Putz arrived at Ellis Island in 1923 at his age of 14, unable to speak English and with a sign around his neck that said ‘Deliver to Notre Dame, Indiana.’”            

His association with the university continued for 75 years, as a student, a teacher, and administrator and he stepped, again, beyond the comforts of home to start the Harvest House and Forever Learning programs for seniors in South Bend. Both projects became models for similar initiatives in Arizona, Texas, Kansas, and California.           

From its humble beginnings in 1974 there are now over a hundred Forever Learning classes and volunteer teachers per semester.           

Along with most classes at the Little Flower Parish on North Ironwood in South Bend, there are also sessions at the Jewish Federation, at Fernwood, at St. Patrick’s Park, and at the Chippewa bowling alley.           

There’s a wide range of classes, from arts to spirituality: computers, cooking, and creative crafts. The big stipulation for Forever Learning is that you have to be at least 50 years old to get in. That’s not old. You could be too young to remember Neil Armstrong on the moon and still be old enough to qualify.           

Again, according to the website, Father Putz “saw life as a chain with three links: the age of learning, the age of earning, and the age of returning,” and that “he chose to focus on the third age because it is that time in life when there is the opportunity to give back one’s knowledge, talent, and experience in service to others.”           

Father Putz, allow me to add that it’s been my experience that learning, earning and returning happen every day, at every stage of life.           

I went back to college when I was 33 because I wanted to be a teacher and from that the best part of my life happened. More than what it led to though, the classroom experience itself was remarkably rewarding. I remember sitting in Northside Hall at IUSB  in 1986 thinking that education is wasted on the young. Even the limited life experience of my 33 years made everything about it more resonant.           

‘Here I am, in a room with a bunch of other people talking about a book we all read. How cool is that?’           

‘I know it’s impractical,’ I thought, ‘but wouldn’t it be great if somewhere in the middle of life we could take a year or two or four and go back to school, to simply sit in a room with a group of other people who have read the same book and talk about it?’           

Who could ask for more?           

Thank you Father Putz and Forever Learning. It’s great to be 64.