In a recent medieval history class at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, Professor David Gallo, 59, discussed fealty pledging and the ceremony of homage between a vassal and a lord. He called on his students to demonstrate how this took place. One student walked to front of the class, kneeling down on all fours to demonstrate. Gallo looked toward Charles Brunswick.
Gallo played the vassal, Brunswick the lord. Gallo walked over to a seated Brunswick, who extended his hand. Gallo then held his hand and pledged the oath.
Gallo’s action highlights what the class embodies: two generations learning together. At 95, Brunswick is the second oldest student in the class, behind only Henry Nusbaum, who turns 103 on March 30.
The two are part of a new pilot program between the Hebrew Home at Riverdale and the Mount where nine residents of Hebrew Home’s RiverWalk facility — housing for independent senior citizens — are auditing classes.
Both generations praised the learning experience.
“I think it’s very exciting that you’re in class, and then that you’re in class with so many bright, young students,” said Brunswick, who has an engineering degree. “When you are an engineer, you don’t have very much history, and it’s kinda nice to fill in what you didn’t get when you were young.”
Brunswick and Nusbaum received a warm reception from students, but neither wants to interfere with the class.
“The students are here to learn and not talk to old people,” Brunswick said with a laugh. “They are very, very receptive of us, and the professor is nice to us.”
Nusbaum joined the class because of Brunswick, to whom he calls a good friend.
“He’s been very helpful,” Nusbaum said. “He spends a lot of time with me, and I respect and admire him.”
Nusbaum has a law degree as well as a master’s in business. He previously taught business and law at Long Island University.
Attending class, Nusbaum said, gets him to go outside and enjoy life. He struggles to hear and his eyes are failing, so he does not do the homework assignments and the readings. He typically takes part in the class discussion, however.
“It’s really an inspiring thing to see, because there are kids our age that don’t try as hard as them,” said Eamonn Maher, 19. “It’s something that’s mind-boggling because you have these people that are in their mid-90s and early hundreds … that are trying just as hard as 19- and 20-year-olds to propel their knowledge and become a better person. I think that’s a beautiful thing and wonderful to see.”
Robert Markolovic, 20, said the seniors attended class, in some cases, more often than their younger counterparts, which is “really inspirational for myself and other students in the class.”
“It’s like by them being here, you connect their generation with our generation, in a way — being able to connect and learn together,” Markolovic said. “And, that’s what I find really important about being here.”
“I just think it’s a very valuable experience for both places,” Gallo said. “For our students, for young people, for older people, for me. I just feel like such an affection for them at this point, and I think my students do, too.”
Before starting the course, Brunswick said he Googled Gallo to learn more about him, something that flattered the professor.
The idea for seniors auditing Mount courses came from a conversation between Hebrew Home chief executive Daniel Reingold and the Mount president Charles Flynn, said Josephine Catalano, Hebrew Home’s volunteer services director.
She, along with other staff members at Hebrew Home and the Mount, looked at course offerings and which buildings and classrooms were easily accessible to residents who use walkers. Hebrew Home arranges for transportation to and from class and covers school fees.
Hebrew Home and the Mount plan to continue offering the courses in the fall, expanding the number of course offering and participants. In addition to medieval history, seniors could take a course on American musical theater as well as drawing.
“It’s a circle of life,” Gallo said.
“It’s youth, middle age and old age. It’s lovely to see that learning still happens, and we’re still connected together.