OLLI presenter honored for work

  • Eleanor Strang

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Granite State College features “learning for the fun of it” for adults over age 50 in Concord, Manchester, Seacoast and Conway. Course offerings are developed by volunteer committees and are taught by volunteer instructors. These instructors sometimes teach courses based on their active or pre-retirement professions, but more often than not, OLLI presenters teach their passion.

What do a bloody riot, a 19th-century poem, runaway slaves and losers in a revolution all have in common?

Eleanor Strang of Derry, who in her four years as an OLLI presenter, taught some of OLLI’s most popular courses, laced with a passion for American and Canadian history.

“Retirement is the chance to take Robert Frost’s ‘Road Not Taken,’ ” Strang said.

A former director of the Kelley Library in Salem, she welcomed the chance to explore her personal “road not taken,” that of a history teacher, after her retirement in 2008. Fascinated since adolescence with the Underground Railroad, she researched lesser-known New Hampshire towns and their Underground Railroad connections in hours of reading at the State Library.

From that was born a historical presentation which she successfully shared with New Hampshire libraries and historical societies more than three dozen times.

“Doing historical presentations combines the solitary aspect of being a researcher with the social aspect of being a presenter. It’s a perfect world,” Strang said.

She began taking OLLI courses and went on to share her expertise as an OLLI presenter with classes on “The Underground Railroad” and “The Loyalists: The Other Side of the Revolution,” a peek into a slice of American history that even ardent history buffs often overlook.

Canada, the destination for both the Underground Railroad and fleeing Loyalists, played a role in her first two courses. She continued that Canadian connection in her third and current course, “Acadians: A Story of Tragedy and Survival.” Drawing on her love of Longfellow’s “Evangeline,” Strang explored the compelling story of French-speaking Acadians expelled from Canada by the British and ongoing efforts to preserve Acadian culture both in northern Maine and Cajun Louisiana. Students flocked to sign up for her two Concord classes, a Manchester class and a Nashua class in the fall.

Not all treks down the road not taken ended up in Canada, however. While on an OLLI trip to Philadelphia, Strang stopped at the new museum of the American Revolution. A Boston native, she was intrigued with a small exhibit and the simplistic version of history we so often see. Her research developed into a class for the winter/spring term on “The Boston Massacre.”

How did John Adams, an ardent patriot, end up defending British soldiers – successfully – and why? Who was Crispus Attucks?

How has Paul Revere’s famous drawing of the massacre framed our ideas about the event?

“There were deliberate inaccuracies in that drawing,” she said. “It was propaganda.” She explained that students are often not taught to think critically about historical sources or to consider the biases those sources had. This coming term, students can feast on an unbiased slice of American history, brought to OLLI by this presenter.

Herself an OLLI student pursuing an eclectic range of classes, Strang emphasized how impressed she is with OLLI members, as a student as well as presenter.

“OLLI is an opportunity to continue learning new things with like-minded people — enthusiastic, well educated, articulate people who make classes come alive.” 

Marcy Charette