2-Jenny-JamesHow does a Realtor leap from writing leases and selling properties to writing music and selling songs? For Jenny James, the catalyst was taking The Academy’s two Writing Music workshops with composer Conrad Kehn—“a genius who’s extraordinary at inspiring people to discover their talents,” she says. Of course, to sell a song, it didn’t hurt that Jenny already had mega-promotional skills that helped open doors in the entertainment world.

In the lead-up to the NFL playoffs, Jenny’s song “Denver Broncos: The Sheriff’s Back in Town” aired on several local TV stations, after she posted it on YouTube. One station prefaced her song with an interview, lengthening the entire segment to about five minutes. You can listen to the song by searching online. It’s also available on iTunes.

“I couldn’t have done the Broncos song if I hadn’t composed my ‘Austria Switzerland’ song in Conrad’s second workshop,” she claims, “and I couldn’t have composed that song if I hadn’t composed my first song in his first workshop.”

Though not required for either workshop, Jenny learned how to use a music-compostion software program, thanks to Conrad’s help and patience. With the Broncos’ playoff win inspiring her, she is now determined to enhance her newest song with both a professional musical notation program and a complementary video, so she can promote this more sophisticated version to local stations that haven’t yet aired it, as well as national early-morning talk shows such as “Good Morning America.”

Mirroring Peyton Manning’s “phenomenally inspiring, unstoppable spirit in facing challenges,” she is also determined to master many more skills than song-writing. During The Academy’s spring term, Jenny is taking her first bridge course ever, plus Drawing (an extension, for her, of an earlier Denver Art Museum class) and Writing Your Life Stories. In Life Stories, she hopes to greatly improve a self-published story written for her grandson and mother-in-law, “Secrets of a Super Hero.”

As a song writer, a storyteller and simply a joyous lifelong learner, Jenny is adamant that “The Academy has changed my life!”

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2-Hensinger-Jim-19682-Hensinger-Jim-2013As a 22-year old paratrooper in Vietnam 44 years ago, Academy member James Speed Hensinger captured his unit’s blinding blitz of a Viet Cong sniper nest in mesmerizing photographs.

But his professional-quality pictures captured world-wide attention last year, after he posted his photos online. They went viral and were published in several media outlets, including the Daily Mail (London)’s lead story on June 20. James faults a few sections of the Daily Mail story for slight inaccuracies, but discounts the errors as nothing of real import.

You won’t want to miss his astounding photos and their riveting back-story at

Here are a few of the photos, which we think you’ll enjoy, but larger versions are on the Daily Mail website.2-VietNamPhotos-Hensinger-2


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Karen Fox – In Memoriam

2-Fox-KarenKaren FoxKaren Fox loved stories—writing them, reading them, performing them:  they were at the center of her life. After majoring in English and theater in college, she worked as an English teacher and professional actor. Later she moved to Colorado and held down what she called a “horribly boring” day-job as a technical writer and editor, but it was then that she discovered the magic of storytelling for adults.

At a storytelling festival sponsored by the University of Colorado at Denver, she found her niche: “it [storytelling] incorporates everything I love—writing, drama and teaching,” she once said. She went on to earn a master’s in Creative Arts in Learning and assemble a repertoire of more than eighty stories (the  majority of them original), which she performed solo for audiences ranging from mega-corporations to small nonprofits and intimate family celebrations. Her stories combined humor with serious messages about racism and other issues. “My hope is that I’ll make people laugh, cry and think,” she said this past fall. And that’s exactly what happened without fail at her performances, according to a host of testimonials on her website,

At The Academy, Karen found yet more ways to indulge her love of stories. Her first course was Kathy Boyer’s Writing Your Life Stories. “So wonderful! So exciting! It’s not really about writing as much as evoking memories,” she said. “You remember the dog you had as a little girl, your elementary school friends . . .” For Karen, those revived memories—and three years in a spin-off writing group–prompted her to complete her memoirs for her family.

Meanwhile, she twice performed stories for The Academy’s Experts & Entertainers series, began regularly volunteering as a greeter and an E&E class assistant, and registered in more Academy courses. One of her most memorable classes was Dr. Fred Abrams’ Doctors on the Edge course on medical ethics. Rating it as “really fabulous,” she gave it the ultimate storyteller’s compliment: “What a page-turner is to a book, his course is to an ordinary class.” High praise from someone who herself excelled at simultaneously engaging and enlightening audiences.

Karen died unexpectedly in early January. Her stories—those she wrote, those she performed and her own life story—are a legacy that will continue to enrich her family, her friends and all kindred spirits who love stories as much as she did.

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Chuck: Academy & Community Asset

Like many Academy participants, Chuck Shannon was no newcomer to lifelong learning when he discovered The Academy. Among other things, he and his wife Jo have always searched for travel options with a strong educational emphasis. “One of my more dynamic experiences,” he notes, “was a tour that [encompassed] an in-depth assessment of the effects of Nazism and Soviet occupation on Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.”

On Grand Meteoron PlazaSo Chuck’s expectations were high when Jo urged him to follow in her footsteps and take one of Jim Kneser’s economics classes, while Chuck was still working. When his expectations were more than exceeded, the well-known “Academy Addiction” kicked in: he was hooked on The Academy. After retiring, he plunged into classes led by Dr. Bennie Bub, Dr. Abe Flexer and Dr. Lew House. “Academy courses,” he says appreciatively, “have expanded my horizons and exposed me to quality instruction in the hard sciences for which I have no background.”

However, Chuck has his own impressive expertise in a range of other disciplines. His “two careers” began with twelve years as a division director for the Denver Regional Council of Governments and concluded with twenty-plus years in the United Way system. In his last ten years with United Way, he split his time between serving as a Mile High United Way vice-president and as a senior fellow with the United Way of America. In the latter role, he focused on developing national initiatives for the organization, fostered by his serving part-time as a fellow at Harvard. He envisions his most significant contribution to the United Way system as helping the nonprofit “define low-income communities in terms of their assets, not their liabilities,” thus “avoiding the stigma and labeling [that comes with a focus on] their deficits and problems.”

Chuck’s post-retirement volunteerism embodies the same positive, community-building approach that he initiated at United Way. As an Arapahoe Library District volunteer, he has engaged immigrants from 62 countries in English conversational circles for the past four years. In addition, he has volunteered with Denver Kids, Inc., which partners with the Denver Public Schools to match students with mentors. Though his Denver Kids commitment was a formal one for the first three years, Chuck is now informally mentoring one student from the program (currently enrolled at CU) “as a friend.”

Clearly Chuck is among many at The Academy who are making an invaluable contribution (to borrow his own language) as “community assets.”

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Roberta Klein’s Record: Most Academy Classes Ever

Don’t you envy Roberta Klein? A “lifelong student who wanted to keep engaged,” she holds the record for taking the most Academy classes. Of course, she got a head start on many of us, since she has enrolled every year, beginning with The Academy’s very first term eleven years ago. She learned first-hand about The Academy’s launch from Sally Kneser, one of The Academy’s co-founders and Roberta’s longtime friend from years of playing bridge and riding a ski bus together.

2-Roberta-Klein (2)But Roberta laughs off any notion that she deserves any special recognition as a student, saying, “I concentrate on courses requiring the least homework!” But that doesn’t mean the courses she tackles are lightweights. “I love thinking about things I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise,” she notes, citing this fall’s course Justice on a Tightrope, led by retired attorney Ted Borrillo. In examining the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case, for example, she was struck by “how things have improved in the justice system.”

She is also so fascinated with Paulette Wasserstein’s Contemporary American Short Stories that she has taken every new installment in this ongoing series for the past three years—and is hoping she gets her registration in early enough to get into the upcoming Spring 2014 class (it always fills quickly). Roberta is particularly impressed with “the tremendous interaction” in every one of Paulette’s courses.

She is equally enthralled with Robin McNeil’s music classes—a wonderful chance to “try to fill in a total gap” in her background, she notes. She is constantly amazed by both how much she learns and how he “just sits down at the piano and comes up [spontaneously] with a tune” to illustrate the point he’s making.

Just as valuable as The Academy’s courses, she emphasizes, is “meeting so many people who are so intelligent and knowledgeable.” Of course, Roberta is one of those people herself—someone whom the rest of us so enjoy meeting and getting to know. With her love of learning and her professional experience heading up the Denver Public Library’s Great Books program, after several years as a New York City teacher, she’s a perfect fit for The Academy.

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Judge Steve Bernard Escapes Ivory Tower

At age twelve, Judge Steve Bernard already knew he wanted to be a lawyer: he loved debate and discussion. Then, as a teenager in the 1960s, he became “a big fan of Martin Luther King.” “I felt strongly,” he recalls, “that the law was the place where one could serve one’s community.”

Steve BernardFortunately for Academy participants, Judge Bernard’s commitment to community service extends to volunteering as a course leader. He tackles complex, nuanced legal subjects with a keen wit, a self-deprecating sense of humor and a down-to-earth style. (For starters, he asks all his classes to dispense with the title “Judge” and call him “Steve.”)

Not surprisingly, civil rights issues are front and center in many of Steve’s Academy classes—either explicitly (as in his popular course on “The Stain,” aka slavery) or as one among many pervasive sub-texts (as in this fall’s The Constitution and the Bill of Rights in American Life). In his upcoming Spring 2014 course on Great Debates that have Shaped the Law, civil rights will once again loom large. This new course, he notes, “will drill down to both sides of pivotal court decisions that have had a significant effect on American society, placing those decisions in the context of history and how the law develops.” It will highlight—among others–the historic Marbury v. Madison and Miranda v. Arizona cases, as well as Brown v. Board of Education and Plessy v. Ferguson, which earlier affirmed the “separate but equal” doctrine underlying Jim Crow laws.

The Academy is not the only beneficiary of Steve’s community work, however. While serving as a Colorado Court of Appeals judge over the past seven years and as a deputy and chief deputy district attorney previously, Steve has taught numerous credit and noncredit classes on legal topics in a variety of community programs and educational institutions. In 2002 he was honored as Lecturer of the Year by the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. His volunteering has also extended to serving on the Adams County’s Open Space Advisory Board and fulfilling such ad hoc roles as tour leader for a local Boy Scout troop eager to explore the new Colorado State Court House downtown, where Steve adjudicates cases on appeal.

Some observers contend that judges should not get involved in community commitments, due to the possibility of their being unduly influenced on legal issues or cases. But Steve believes strongly that it is “important for judges to be really present and active members of their communities and not sit in an Ivory Tower,” as long as they “set boundaries” about discussing issues that are or might come before their courts.

Steve not only values but “really likes” The Academy, he says emphatically, and hopes he can continue teaching with us. Our immediate response: can we get you to sign this long-term contract we’ve drawn up, Steve? Of course, the pay will be the same: the reward of knowing how much Academy participants revel in learning about the law and its role in American history, from an erudite judge who knows how to tell a joke (almost always on himself).

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RosalieGoldmanAcademy member Rosalie Goldman admits that she has “failed retirement three times,” each time going back to work, most recently as a substitute teacher three days a week. “But I make Academy classes a priority,” she says. “I never teach on Tuesdays so I can take classes then.”

Rosalie’s Writing Your Life Stories course leader, Kathy Boyer, praises her as “my most enthusiastic student.” And Rosalie more than returns the compliment. “Kathy’s method is what is so significant and so do-able: you don’t have to [write everything] from beginning to end; you just keep tossing [your stories] into a three-ring binder.” From there, and with added encouragement from the writing group that grew out of Kathy’s class, Rosalie organized her memoir on her computer, ultimately creating an impressive, 190-page, spiral-bound document containing about fifty stories.

“I was determined to finish it within three years,” she recalls, and targeted her seventy-third birthday this past September. Just days ahead of her self-imposed deadline, she raced through pouring rain to get it copied and bound at Copy Max.

2-BookCoverRosalieGoldmanHer memoir encompasses an opening section on her own life and a second part focused primarily on her parents and her grandparents, though she also touches on her children, grandchildren, cousins, ex-husband and ex-in-laws. Noting that “it’s not intended to be read in its entirety,” she calls it a “collection of stories—narratives, historical records and, most important, reflections” on how her life was shaped by her values. For example, she incorporated a chapter on her volunteer experiences, hoping that it will inspire her children and grandchildren to continue her family’s strong tradition of volunteerism.

Throughout her work on her memoir and as a substitute teacher, Rosalie has continued taking a challenging mix of Academy classes. “I gravitate toward the social sciences–and I like the quality of The Academy’s instructors,” she says emphatically. She considers Dan Lynch, her original Constitution course leader, “a fountain of wisdom.” She also loved Judge Steve Bernard’s class on Slavery and the Constitution, and Dr. Fred Abrams’ “incredible” Doctors on the Edge course on medical ethics.

We can’t wait for Rosalie to retire a fourth (and final?) time, so she can immerse herself in even more Academy courses and share her enthusiasm for learning with even more of us.

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HowardBrandWhen asked how he discovered the key to enjoying retirement so much, Academy member Howard Brand replied with his trademark wit and humor. “Some guys never retire. Some guys retire with a whole bucket list of things to do. I’ve always done just exactly what I wanted to do.”

Some of the things he has enthusiastically chosen to do might surprise you. To name just two—both rare for a man of his generation—Howard served on the Colorado Commission for Women in the 1980s and spent a decade as “Mr. Mom,” caring for his children and home, while his wife earned a degree and then went to work.

Howard also forged a career as a self-described computer geek by navigating the epic changes in technology during his adult years. After a stint in the Air Force learning electronics, he went to work for the Burroughs Corporation, mastering the predecessor to the computer before graduating to the real thing. “I went from punch cards to personal computers: pc’s to PCs,” he says with a laugh.

In his Academy classes, Howard indulges both his geek side and the dilettante he claims to be at heart. He has a hard time picking any favorites among his courses, since he has found “all the classes to be wonderful.” On the one hand, he marvels at course leader John Anderson’s thorough research and intellectual depth. Having taken John’s classes on mathematical theorists and the physics of time, Howard considers John “a geek’s geek.” But he also was amazed at how much he learned about music in Robin McNeil’s and Lorraine Sherry’s classes, and about aging and other personal issues in George Ho’s End-of-Life Choices and Ruth Neubauer’s Psychological Growth: Our Losses & Gains.

In between his Academy classes, Howard still finds time to greet Academy participants (always with a warm welcome and often with a spontaneous joke) and help staff the Denver Art Museum gift shop. With a richly resonant voice worthy of commercial radio or television, Howard has also served as an expert reader for the nonprofit Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic; he has recorded books as demanding as advanced economics texts and the history of the Panama Canal.

One of his most rewarding volunteer jobs, he notes, has been as a teacher in free ESL classes and as a one-on-one tutor for non-native US residents. In mentoring a South Korean minister studying at a Denver seminary, he went well beyond his “job description,” persevering until he realized that their ideal ESL text was the Bible and later helping to edit his student’s seminary essays.

Clearly Howard’s fulfilling retirement could be a model for us all, but we know he’d just advise us to “always do exactly what you want to do.”

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Why has Patricia Cox’s Write to Save Your Life memoir-writing course filled virtually every time she has offered it over the last six years? She credits the course’s success not to her remarkable ability as a writing mentor but to “the rich stories my participants bring to the class.”

2-Cox-PatriciaIronically, Patricia notes, “the majority come as very reluctant writers.” By the end of the course, however, many participants are so eager to complete their memoirs and continue their fruitful interaction with their classmates that they form spin-off writers’ groups. Patricia has met for three years with one of these many “Academy graduate” groups. Occasionally she visits the other groups, as well.

Patricia honed her skills as a course leader through years as a teacher for Cherry Creek and the Denver Public Schools and as a published memoirist. Her first book, We Keep Our Potato Chips in the Refrigerator, focused on her late husband and their journey through Alzheimer’s. She went on to publish My’s Happy, recapturing her children’s, grandchildren’s and her own growing-up years. And we’re delighted to congratulate Patricia on the recent publication of her third memoir, I’m Sorry . . . What is the Question? –an entertaining and insightful reflection on events that shaped her life.

Patricia especially loves teaching Write to Save Your Life at the Academy, she says, because “people interested in the Academy are eager to continue learning and doing—and are just fun people to be with.”

We couldn’t agree more!

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2-TedBorrilloCongratulations to retired attorney Ted Borrillo on the publication of his new book, Denver’s Elitch Theatre: A Nostalgic Journey! It’s a fascinating portrayal of the dramatic history underlying his Academy courses on Elitch’s–and promises to be equally popular.

Denver’s Elitch Theatre is packed with little-known details of the back-stage melodramas that marked the historic theatre’s birth in 1890, its roller-coaster struggles to survive, its repeated rescues from bankruptcy, and its many coups—including luring Broadway legends to its boards. East Coast stage actors knew–as the acclaimed Frederic March once said–that “Anyone who was successful there had an excellent chance of getting better parts when he returned to New York.”

Of course, not every well-known performer behaved like a paragon when in Denver for Elitch’s summer season. One of the dozens (hundreds?) of revealing anecdotes features Mickey Rooney, who was notorious for finishing his matinees up to ten minutes early. Observers reported that Mickey would race through his lines, so he could get to the race track on time to place his bets. His signature offstage exit line: “I said every word! I said every word!”

Ted also regales his readers with entertaining and informative back-stories of pertinent local events (such as the competing Manhattan Beach “resort” built on Sloan’s Lake) and not-so-famous actors—some, like local maven Helen Bonfils, who were much more famous for their offstage roles.

For local-history lovers, theatre devotees and those just seeking an intriguing true story about a cultural icon, Ted’s book is available at

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