Looking to keep your brain active post-retirement? Enough that you could give a presentation on something you know nothing about in front of 75 retired professionals and executives — without mentioning politics or religion?
REAP Talks may have what you seek.
Members meet every Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center, 700 N. Cedar Rd., Jenkintown. Part of the draw is researching and learning enough to give a 90-minute presentation to other members about a topic that's brand new to you.
The group maintains its own website (REAPTalk.org) and requires dues of $55 a year, much less than a semester at a local college. Anyone can join, although a brief interview is required, and REAP Talks follows the schedule of the academic school year — September to June.
Sylvia Silverman of Willow Grove spoke Sept. 27 about "Philadelphia: Then and Now," with photos and PowerPoint slides that will be posted on the website. Alice Parker will speak Oct. 25 on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Chauncey Harris, a new member and retired Elkins Park lawyer, is still thinking about his topic.
"Probably something related to history," Harris said.
REAP was founded in 1970, the brainchild of two women on the board of Cheltenham Township Adult School, which sponsors classes in the evening. They formed Retired Executives and Professionals as a separate educational experience for seniors, or "those who were seasoned," said current president Alice Ingber, who will give a talk next year on "lighter-than-air vehicles."
The New School in New York's Greenwich Village served as the model, with the goal of helping seniors retain cognition, particularly those who had retired from their working lives. Each member researches a topic and makes a presentation to the group once every 18 months to two years.
"Although the general subject area may be familiar to you, the talk itself should represent information that is generally new to you," said Jim Rubillo, who gave a talk on Smedley Butler, the controversial 1930s Marine Corps general who also served as Philadelphia public-safety director.
Some topics are verboten: book reviews; travelogues; religious or political subjects. Historical and cultural topics that touch on religion or politics are acceptable.
"No one wants to hear what you did for your job," said Joe Tomei, who gave a talk on John L. Lewis, the American labor organizer of coal miners.
Len Moskoff, a retired accountant, researched and gave a PowerPoint presentation on Charlie Chaplin, the movie actor and director of landmark films such as The Great Dictator.
"He was a subversive, accused of being a communist. And I remember almost everything I said in the talk that I gave over two years ago," Moskoff said.
REAP Talks also organizes trips, including one to Lancaster on Oct. 24. And discussion sub-groups meet on current events, literature, science and technology, and ethics. REAP Talks will sponsor special classes such as Mark Perlman's workshop on helping seniors better use the internet or Windows software.
Brain stimulation can't be beat, said Stan Singer, who retired from Janney Montgomery Scott several years ago. He joined REAP Talks on the advice of a doctor friend who brought him along. "I needed something new in my life," he said.
Members range in age from 55 on up. Some older members include Irene Reiter, 90, who retired as head of the English department at Northeast High School, and Irv Sharf, 95, who joined REAP Talks in 1999. He's given presentations on the restoration of the Waterworks and 12 other talks.
"I joined in 1990, and over 27 years I've probably given 40 or more talks," Reiter said. "Some lectures are better than others. You put your flash drive into the presentation computer and pray!"
One member recited the whole of Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din without any notes, Reiter recalled.
REAP Talks motivates seniors to do their homework.
"You have to do your research. Otherwise, you don't learn anything. I have a Ph.D. and lectured to teachers all over the country, and I still push myself to do it because I love coming," said Reiter, a Warminster resident. She sometimes dresses up to play the part.
Jonathan Mallamud, a retired law professor, joined because "I wanted to expand my social life, I was eager to learn new things, and speaking in front of people really drives you," he said. He gave his first talk on utopian communications, and another on Dorothy Norman — a photographer, a writer, and Alfred Steiglitz's lover.
Then there are the social benefits. "After my husband died, I really needed to get out," said member Bernice Keepler of Upper Moreland.
Topics for 2018? Steve McQueen, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and carousel animals.
Susan Adler, who moved to Philadelphia from St. Louis five years ago, joined because "it's a way to meet interesting people. Also, men and women mingle at these talks, which is great."