Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Discovering purpose in retirement

Written by Leonard Adreon, facilitator, Lifelong Learning Institute, Washington University in St. Louis

The year was 2005. I decided to hang it up after a long and relatively successful career. I started working at age 9 as an office boy for the St. Louis Cardinal Baseball team. I was drafted into the Navy during World War 2, went to college on the GI bill and was recalled into service in 1950. I served in combat with the First Marine Division at the 38th Parallel in 1951 and 1952. After returning from Korea, I worked in the real estate management and development industry.

As a new retiree, I felt lost and disoriented, like something in my life was missing. A friend told me about the Lifelong Learning Institute at my alma mater, Washington University. I checked it out and discovered that I was interested in several of the courses that were offered. I cautiously signed up, so I could give it a try.

Something unexpected happened. Not only were the courses well presented by volunteer facilitators, but I was thrown together with many other retirees who were friendly and interesting men and women. It was much more than simply sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture; the members of the class participated in the learning experience. I began to feel comfortable enough to be one of the participants. Lifelong Learning talks about peer learning and that is what the program is all about. I met doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers, business people, therapists and a variety of people who brought to the classroom their lifetime experiences. Attending class at the Lifelong Learning Institute became an important feature of my retirement, and it added a stimulating social element to my life.

After a while, I decided to sign up for some writing classes. I have always wanted to write but my experience was limited to business writing — I wanted to write for fun. Instead of listening to lectures, I wanted to be proactive and experiment with different forms of writing. I wrote some fiction, poetry, and essays, which led me to writing my memoir. Although I had not talked or written about my combat experiences in Korea for more than 60 years, I began to write some vignettes about those years and present them to my Memoir Class. The class members were extremely interested in my writing. All of this led to being asked to be a guest presenter for a class about the Korean War. What was anticipated to be a 20-minute guest appearance evolved into 3 visits to the class and several hours discussing my part in the war, answering a barrage of questions from the students.

Class instructors and students pushed me to assemble my writing, embellish it, and put it all together in the form of my memoir. I published the book titled, Hilltop Doc: A Marine Corpsman Fighting Through the Mud and Blood of the Korean War in 2017. I am proud of Hilltop Doc and the fact that I worked long and hard to produce a book that has been featured in a special program at Washington University, the St. Louis Book Festival, and elsewhere. I have a website where people who are interested in Korea can learn more about the book.

Today, I co-facilitate two writing classes at the Lifelong Learning Institute. I look forward to my classes every week and am pleased that the classes are successful. I have made many friends as a result of Lifelong Learning. The void that existed when I first retired has been filled — in fact, it’s better than that. I am busy doing what I enjoy, every single day. Last semester, Dan Ellis, the former Dean of the Washington University Law School, and I presented a course on the Korean War which was well received by the attendees.

Looking forward, even at 91 years of age, I hope to keep chugging along in my very active new life. I would recommend to any other senior citizen to search for and participate in some activity that is of interest and to delve into it with gusto. I believe it is the healthiest and most rewarding thing that you can do for yourself.

To learn more about Washington University’s Lifelong Learning Institute visit their website at, or call 314-935-4237.