Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer
Had he been a history major at Judson College, Elvan Olmstead would have had a serious leg up on his classmates.
After all, he's seen two world wars and 15 U.S. presidents in his day.
The 81-year-old Elgin resident will pick up his fifth college diploma Saturday when he and the other 153 members of the Class of '96 graduate from the Baptist college in Elgin.
Olmstead sees this as just another milestone in a college career that began in 1932 and includes a doctorate from Yale. He already has plans to take more classes at Judson and Elgin Community College next spring.
Why would someone make a lifelong career out going to school?
"It gives me an activity. You have to have something to do," Olmstead said. "Part of my purpose in taking these courses is it gives me contact with people."
Continuing education seems to be a growing trend among older people with specialized programs offered at several community colleges.
About 2,000 students are enrolled in the College of DuPage's Older Adult Institute for people older than 55. "We have students who are in their 90s," program manager Marget Hamilton said.
Seniors are more active today than before, Hamilton said. "Seniors are living longer and they are healthier. (They) are no longer viewed as someone who sits back in a rocking chair and does nothing," she said.
This year, 71-year-old Daniel Dunkleman of Deerfield is graduating with honors from the College of Lake County. In addition, three students in their 60s are graduating this year.
Last year, 94-year-old Margaret Salem of Lake Zurich graduated with an associate in arts degree from the college and still is taking classes there.
Oakton Community College in Des Plaines offers senior citizens the Emeritus program, which has courses in anthropology, art history, drawing, computers, literature, U.S. history, opera and international relations. Enrollment in the program goes up each year, said Ray Rolf, Oakton's public relations manager.
In the past Oakton has had graduates as old as 92, Rolf said.
Professors say that non-traditional students usually are among their best. Because they aren't …