“A vigorous mind is as necessary to a full life as are physical exercise and social relationships,” says the mission statement of the Rappahannock Institute for Lifelong Learning (RILL), a program initiated by the Rappahannock Community College Educational Foundation (RCC EFI) over 10 years ago.
RILL was designed by a group of volunteers to be a life-enriching and thought-provoking learning experience. The educational opportunities it offers are intellectually stimulating to adult students of any age, who acquire knowledge, explore new ideas, and share their interests and experience with like-minded community members. The courses usually consist of three weekly sessions, for a minimal fee — starting at $30 in 2004, it has since increased by only five dollars. One goal of the program is to provide a wide variety of courses that appeal to diverse interests: history, archaeology, social sciences, music, literature, fine arts, and many more. This eclectic and fascinating spectrum of topics is planned and facilitated by a committee of outstanding volunteers, with the assistance of RCC EFI administrative assistant Sharon Drotleff.
In Fall 2002, RCC EFI’s Board of Directors approved the proposal to establish a personal enrichment or lifelong learning program. RILL was formally established in Spring 2004, and its first six classes were held in Fall 2004, at libraries and other public spaces in Warsaw, Heathsville, and Kilmarnock. The program has since expanded to cover several additional locations on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, while enrollment has more than doubled.
RILL has flourished to such an extent that surplus funds have been available to create the Rappahannock Institute of Lifelong Learning Scholarship in honor of Jane Towner and Elizabeth “Libby” Singleton Wolf, who as members of the RCC EFI Board masterminded the founding of the program. This $500 scholarship provides assistance to entering or continuing RCC students whose goal, after earning an RCC associate degree, is to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program at a four-year college.
Towner considers RILL one of the achievements that give her the most personal satisfaction. “I went to a lot of those classes,” she notes, “and the instructors were wonderful. I’m a life-long learner myself.”
RILL is fortunate to have had many interesting and gifted instructors over the years. Gail Kenna, a retired university professor and the recipient of numerous teaching and writing awards, has been a RILL regular since 2005. Her literature and writing courses have been a source of inspiration to a multitude of students. “Many thanks to RILL for helping to keep my aging mind alive,” Kenna says, “and special thanks to everyone in RCC EFI, and to the college’s visionary president.” She continues, “When I moved to the Northern Neck in 2004, I assumed that my classroom days were over. What has been wonderful is the experience of teaching RILL courses. No pressure of grades, no testing, only a room of curious students who are there by choice. I especially love running into former students and having them ask what my next course will be. At present I alternate between a writing course each fall and literature in the spring.”
Another favorite is Jon Stallard, whose undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science, history, and education make him well qualified to teach his very popular history courses, often focusing on the Civil War. Other aspects of Virginia history are dealt with by Robert Teagle, the education director and curator at the Foundation for Historic Christ Church in Irvington, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in American history from Virginia Tech.
“Teaching RILL courses and students has been one of the most enjoyable experiences we’ve had as educators,” say David Brown and Thane Harpole, the co-directors of the Fairfield Foundation and founding members of the Werowocomoco Research Group. “Working with a knowledgeable, engaged, and enthusiastic class each and every semester has been an absolute pleasure and made us better teachers.” Both Brown and Harpole received their undergraduate degrees, and Brown his doctorate, from the College of William and Mary, and have conducted archaeological research in Gloucester County since 1994.
RCC EFI wishes to expresses its appreciation to the Bank of Lancaster’s Golden Advantage program for generously supporting RILL since 2006, and to Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury for its sponsorship since 2011.