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From teaching high school seniors to senior citizens

  • Bob Pingree teaching one of his 19 courses for OLLI at Granite State College. —Courtesy of OLLI

For the Monitor
Published: 10/19/2018 4:29:09 PM

Two hundred movies per year: that’s what Bob Pingree does for fun.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Granite State College claims its presenters teach their passion. That would make Pingree the poster child for OLLI presenters. In November, Pingree’s 19th OLLI course will feature the first two films of The Godfather franchise. The first 18 have featured 76 full-length films and seven “clip shows” over nine years.

His love of movies started in early childhood and never waned. Although he was told his first movie was Pinocchio, the first one he remembers is The African Queen, from which the image of leeches is forever burned into his mind.

Attending Rutgers College, just an hour out of Manhattan, gave Pingree easy access to hone a particular fondness for foreign films, not so readily-available in Concord.

At Rutgers, he was a teaching assistant in his major, English, when his department chair came up with an idea – why don’t we start teaching film and let’s do it before the Arts Department thinks of it? Recruiting five other TAs, they began a curriculum which Pingree enjoyed for three years. Responding in the affirmative to his Mom’s “Are you sure this is a good idea as a career field?” Pingree came home to begin 34 years of teaching film to high school students at Concord High School.

After retirement, he conducted tours of the Museum of New Hampshire History for children for a year before the fun wore off. A part-time teaching gig at NHTI in film and English composition reminded him not to spend one more minute of his life reading student essays after that year’s commitment. Instead, he found a way to incorporate his favorite hobby into a job for the last three years of Cinema 93’s existence. And that’s when he found OLLI.

No tests to grade, quizzes to makeup or essays to read was the first attraction. Smaller audiences and greater flexibility. But the real love of teaching OLLI is teaching people with different experiences, different perspectives – leading discussions among peers. Pingree’s joy is exposing students to good films they didn’t know existed and having them cultivate a taste for things they never would have considered if left to their own devices. That was as true in high school as it is now in OLLI.

At the high school level, where the life experience was limited, Pingree is proud of leading students to explore new realms. He describes an incident where he was at the box office of the latest film by French director Francois Truffaut where he ran into two former students, one from Rutgers and one from Concord High. How satisfying to know that these two former students’ lives were so enriched as a result of the exposure he had provided.

And what about other forms of entertainment. TV? That would be a big no. Pingree does not have the patience for little snippets of a story told over periods of weeks and months. He binge-watched Breaking Bad and thought it was okay, but he’d rather watch a few dozen films in the time it takes to see a multi-year TV series. Opera, on the other hand, is another love, one which he indulges with an almost-annual pilgrimage to The Met with his wife or special Boston productions with his daughter.

Sporting a T-shirt listing opera titles, this owner of 560 movie titles in his personal collection, almost literally wears his loves on his sleeves. One other of those loves, undoubtedly the most important, his wife, Kathryn Ford, shares Pingree’s love of movies. She doesn’t often get to pick out which of the films they watch together. But how can you fault a guy that wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day to bring his not-yet-retired wife tea in bed?

Although Pingree’s course is a sellout, seats are still available in several fascinating non-academic courses through the end of the term in mid-December. OLLI’s classes and events are open to adults over age 50 with discounted rates for members. Information is available on the OLLI website,

(Jackie Fogarty is a member of OLLI.)

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