On May 4, the topic was “Wind, Water, Waves and Weather.” On the 11th, it was “Volcanoes, Vulcanism and Climate Change.” The week after that, “Local Railroad History.”
Every week, the residents of Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge (WCBR) learn about something else, something completely new, during the Westminster Institute of Lifelong Learning (WILL) lecture. And it’s been happening since January 2017, when residents Mitch Sams and Ross Thomas started the program.
They were inspired by another local program here in Charlottesville, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Mitch and Ross were both fans of those lectures, and they realized that with all the talented and knowledgeable people who live at WCBR, they should be able to put together a fascinating program of their own.
140 sessions so far
They were right. Through May 2020, there have been 140 sessions, featuring a total of 80 speakers. Yes, some speakers come back, and offer talks on different subjects.
Often, they share the expertise gained in their careers before coming to WCBR. But not always. Others speak about their hobbies or passions. For instance, Mitch Sams himself – who was a medical school professor – never talks about dermatology. His topics have included:
- Wind, Water, Waves and Weather
- Ocean tidal currents
- Furniture-making in the 18th century
He says his next one is going to be “about Western deserts.” Programs by other speakers Sams has particularly enjoyed include:
- Scuba diving
- Vineyard development and maintenance
- History of the American flag
- Art and science of fly-fishing
- Sherlock Holmes
And many more.
Adapting through the pandemic
The speakers are always residents, and the lectures are just for residents and associates. The hour-long lectures usually fill up the Pantops Classroom, which holds about 60. Sometimes, says Sams, you can see people “standing in back or sitting on the floor in the aisles.”
At least, that’s the way the programs were before the coronavirus. They’re still as popular now, but the lectures are recorded and delivered online. And they have expanded.
In past years, WILL has taken a break in June, July and August. This year, it will continue every week, even through the summer. This way, “People who are isolated and confined have more to do,” says Sams. That includes both speakers and listeners.
And with the wealth of speakers and interests at WCBR, there’s no danger of running out of topics. In fact, says Sams, the schedule is already filled through the rest of 2020.