Community Ed. offers food for ‘Active Minds’

by Jim Boyle

Dick Vagts has been hooked on Active Minds (formerly the Third Age) ever since he was talked into attending the first class.

Dick Vagts speaking at a panel discussion.

The Elk River resident of 30-some years attended at the request of a friend, and afterward he signed up for a membership that allowed him to take part in the rest of the programs.

He’s purchased another yearly membership for the latest round of two-part classes, and this time he has paid for his son to attend one of the courses with him on the topic of baseball stadiums.

Neal Karlen, the  author of seven books ranging from vaudeville to minor league baseball, will trace the history of baseball by investigating Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and Target Field.

Vaghts’ son, an Elk River graduate and a student at the University of Minnesota, collects baseball cards.

Karlen is a former associate editor at Newsweek, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and is a regular contributor to The New York Times. He calls baseball stadiums green cathedrals and will talk about the trend to build intimate ballparks of yore.

Vagts is not as interested in baseball himself, but he suspects he will enjoy the class Sept. 24 and Oct. 8 — especially in the company of his son.

“You find things you’re not as interested in are interesting, too,” he told the Star News on Wednesday, two days after serving on a panel to promote District 728 Community Education’s Active Minds program.

A yearly membership costs $169 a year per person or $330 a couple and makes it possible to attend any and all of the 40-plus courses available. The membership pays for itself after four classes.

Vagts likes the concept of the program, which challenges people to always be learning. Vagts likes to do that, and now that he’s retired he has more time to dedicate to such endeavors. He’s working on making the transition from print to digital photography, so he is also especially looking forward to Doug Ohman’s program,  The American Barn: A Photographic Study.

Ohman is a self-taught, award-winning photographer with a degree in history and geography from the University of Minnesota. He has published several books, focusing on Minnesota’s rural scenes, landmarks and historical buildings.

Other speakers are professors by training. If nothing else, they come with an interest or a passion for their topic and have dedicated themselves to developing their presentation skills.

Vagts would have loved to have studied more subjects in college if he hadn’t been saddled with the demands of earning his mechanical engineering degree and squeaking out every grade point he could on his GPA. For instance, he may have taken American literature where a stack of classics were to be read, but he settled for a philosophy of science class that was less rigorous.  Now he’s curious and has the time to delve into more interests than when he was in college or rasing a family.

Four years in the Navy helped him develop an interest in history, a thirst that Active Minds helps fulfill.

To register, go to For more about the teachers of Active Minds classes, read on.

Authors and teachers
•Doug Ohman’s story is a classic tale of successfully chasing the American Dream. Ohman is a self-taught, award-winning photographer with a degree in history and geography from the University of Minnesota. He has published a dozen books focusing on Minnesota’s rural scenes, landmarks and historical buildings.

•Neal Karlen is the author of seven books ranging in content from vaudeville to minor league baseball to fundamentalist religions. He is a former associate editor at Newsweek, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and is a regular contributor to The New York Times. Karlen has also contributed to a score of national publications.

•JB Andersen, a lifelong educator, has worked at both secondary and higher educational institutions for the past 40 years. His academic background is interdisciplinary combining history and psychology. He has written books and has nearly 200 articles published.

•Diana Thottungal majored in botany as an undergraduate. She also studied plant genetics as a graduate student at the University of Illinois and went on to teach botany and biology at City University in New York City. Thottungal has developed and led a number of plant- and ecology-focused interpretive programs, and currently works as an Interpretive Naturalist at the Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary.

•Troy Bigalke is a certified financial planner (CFP) with Ameriprise Financial. He specializes in retirement and estate planning. Bigalke has taught many classes on these subjects over the years with Community Education.

•Dr. Marguerite Ragnow, curator of the James Ford Bell Library, earned her doctorate in medieval and early modern history at the University of Minnesota. Her most recent publication, “Religious Conflict and Conflict in the Early Modern World,” co-edited with William D. Phillips Jr., appeared on shelves last fall.

•National presenter, Valerie Lis, conducts seminars on self-healing and offers one-on-one and phone sessions in emotional freedom techniques (EFT). Co-owner of Courses for LIFE, she teaches integrated health and healing at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and presents training seminars to health and business professionals. Addressing holistic health topics, Lis presents on life challenges and is a frequent radio and TV guest. Involved with various integrative therapies, she provides amazing self-empowered tools to her clients and audiences, supporting positive change in just minutes.

•Jess Johnson loves bringing people of all ages closer to nature through fun and engaging activities. She has experience working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. She is currently finishing up a Master of Science degree in education, with emphasis in environmental education through Bemidji State University.

•Jenzi Silverman holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota, and an associate diploma in recorder recital from the distance-learning program of Trinity Guildhall College – London. She teaches courses on music and health for the University of Minnesota Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Learning Life.

•Johannes Allert’s particular interests include aviation as well as 19th and 20th century western history. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology with a minor in history from Mankato State University and a master’s degree in military history from Norwich University.

•Forensic Geologist Scott F. Wolter is the president of American Petrographic Services Inc. He studied at the University of Minnesota, Duluth and has written several books on geologic topics including Lake Superior agates and the Kensington Runestone. He also is called upon to assist in high profile cases such as the ones that will be discussed in this class.

Active Minds chases larger scope than Third Age 

The American Barn: A photographic study
Learn from and work side by side with award-winning photographer Doug Ohman. The first night will include a discussion and history of Minnesota barns and his insights on creating images of these structures. The second class will be held at unique farm sites so those attending can experience the barn first-hand, with or without your camera.

— Tuesdays, Sept. 18 and 25,  6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Rogers Middle School, media, door A

Boys of Autumn and their Green Cathedrals
Explore the “Green Cathedrals” of our nationals pastime. Trace the history of baseball by investigating Boston’s Fenway park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium — the grandiose “House that (Babe) Ruth Built” and today’s trend towards building green and honoring the intimate ballparks of yore — a retro movement whose latest manifestation is the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field.

— Mondays, Sept. 24  and Oct. 8, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Rogers Middle School, media, door A

Teddy Roosevelt:  The Early Years
Listen as a historian tells us about Roosevelt and his early years, his education, family, marriages, children and his presidency. Hear about “TR and the Sea’s Head,” Lincoln’s funeral, living in North Dakota, his eccentric daughter Alice and her White House wedding. Early politics and the Spanish American War also will be discussed.

— Wednesdays, Sept. 19  and Oct. 3, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Rogers Middle School, media, door A

(Click here to see story by Britt Aamodt.)

The Biology of Autumn
Why do tree leaves change into countless different colors in the autumn, but evergreens don’t lose their needles? How can some flowers blossom in September after a heavy freeze, while others fade away at a touch of frost? Join naturalist Diana Thottungal for a hands-on foray into fall-themed facts about the natural world.

— Mondays,  Oct. 1 and 8 (Rain date Oct. 15), 2 to 4 p.m., Theodore Wirth Beach, 3200 Glenwood Ave. N., Minneapolis

Protecting the Nest; Straight Financial Talk
Learn how to protect your nest egg from the uncertainties of the markets. Topics covered include ensuring that you won’t outlive your money, tax planning and managing risk in your nest egg. Learn how to maximize your nest egg. Handouts will be provided.

— Tuesdays, Oct. 30 and Nov. 13, 10 a.m. to noon, Handke Center, room 111, door 4

Early Scandinavia: Maps, Myths and History
Scandinavia was a semi-mythical place before the 9th century and was often poorly depicted on early maps. Learn about the importance of Scandinavia in history, discuss the Kensington Runestone and the Vinland Map and see hand-painted maps that depict early Scandinavia. First session will be in Elk River and the second session will be a hands-on interaction at the James Bell Library.

— Fridays, Nov. 2 and 16, 10 a.m. to noon, Handke Center, room 111, door 4

Introduction To Holistic Health
Many people become interested in holistic health because of health challenges, while others are simply curious. Gain an increased understanding of the holistic health field by trying various methods including reflexology, muscle testing, yoga acupressure, music, EFT and others. Discover a variety of ideas to improve your health and experience hours of learning and fun.

— Thursdays, Nov. 1 and  8, 1 to 3 p.m., Handke Center, room 111, door 4

Into the Woods
Join in an exploration and in-depth look at the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. On the first day the group will meet at the Mahnomen Trail where they’ll learn about the woods and water. On the second day, the group will head to the Blue Hill Trail and experience the variety it offers. Wear hiking shoes and bring a water bottle.

— Saturdays, Nov. 3 and 10,  10 a.m. to noon, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Zimmerman

Introduction to The Great American Songbook, Part II: World War II to the 1960s
During the Great Depression and World War II, creators of “The Great American Songbook” kept America’s spirits up. Learn about the music and songwriters including the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter and others. You do not need to have taken part 1 to take this course; the only requirement is being a fan of music or willingness to become one.

— Wednesdays, Nov. 28 and Dec. 12, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Handke Center, room 111, door 4

Team America:  Transition to a World Power — 1898 to 1914
Most Americans are aware of the war with the Philippines that lasted from 1898 to 1914. The class will review the phases of action, the reasons for the outbreak, Spanish American War of 1898, the Panama Canal, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s theory on naval power and America’s unplanned but successful counter-insurgency in the Philippines.

— Thursdays, Nov. 8 and 15, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.,  Rogers Middle School, media, door A

Forensics from East to West: Crime Scene Investigation
Forensic geologist Scott Wolter will discuss two of the most unusual cases of his 25-year career: the extent of the damage done to the concrete support system of the Pentagon after the 9/11 attack and assisting Las Vegas homicide detectives in identifying a Jane Doe murder victim found by a man walking his dog.

— Tuesdays, Dec. 4 and 11, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Rogers Middle School, media, door A