Meet Ginger Wilson - by Beth Timson
People in OLLI courses have had such exciting and interesting lives and careers May 2016
Ginger Wilson says that she wanted to be a part of the Duke community since she was in the seventh grade, living in New Jersey. She was browsing in the library’s college catalog collection, saw a picture of the campus, and knew it was the place for her. She came to Durham as an undergraduate when it was still a sleepy town smelling of tobacco from the cigarette factories, and other than one year teaching in Virginia has lived here ever since.
She followed up that degree with a master’s and a doctor’s degree and also captured the heart of Gerald Wilson, then an assistant dean at Duke. Ginger taught history in public schools for some years, first at Broughton in Raleigh, then back to Durham schools Northern High and Southern High. The only time off was a short period to be home with her daughter, Holly.
In 1979, when the state decided to try the exciting experiment of a residential high school for students gifted in mathematics and science, and to locate that school in Durham, Ginger was selected to be one of the founding members of the new school’s faculty. She became the head of the Humanities Department and held that position until she retired in 2010. Even after retirement, Ginger worked part time with the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and until recently with the Duke University undergraduate education program and the graduate MAT program.
Ginger recalls that she worked with DILR (Duke Institute for Learning in Retirement) as an instructor before that program became OLLI. She says she was always surprised that one DILR class which filled up was on the history of Australia; this past winter she team-taught with her husband Gerald an OLLI course entitled “1945-1963: A Time to Remember.”
Her volunteer work for OLLI as head of the History and Current Affairs section of the Curriculum Committee, she says, is basically to find or recruit the right people to teach courses on history and current events. It’s not too difficult, she insists, since the core group she works with is great with referrals and networking; and some instructors want to teach every year. The people who want to teach history are not always historians; she notes that people with “a lifelong interest in history” are often exciting instructors on special subjects they are passionate about—some surprisingly popular courses have covered topics like “how airports work” and “the Ottoman empire.”
“I like to see that OLLI has good history and current events programs going—I like to turn people on to history!” she says. The time commitment isn’t excessive—a number of hours from her and other committee members before each term to contact prospective instructors and to firm up courses and turn ideas and referrals into real course proposals.
“Is it worth the effort?” she was asked. Definitely, she says: “Classes in OLLI are special. I loved teaching in high school and college, but the people in the OLLI courses have had such exciting and interesting lives and careers—in any class, they bring a lot to the table.”