On a Wednesday afternoon, Judy Reed is writing an object lesson. It’s part of her volunteer training at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens of Marjorie Merriweather Post in DC that houses a collection of Russian and French decorative arts.
Reed, who lives in Silver Spring, taught science in Fairfax and Montgomery public schools before her retirement. Now, she’s writing about an object in the collection—an 18th century French desk—describing it so it’s engaging and interesting to a Hillwood visitor. She also has a pile of reading, “the equivalent of a graduate class,” she says, from attending classes and learning about the museum’s extensive collection. If all goes well, she will be a docent by the summer.
Becoming a museum docent is a competitive avocation among Washington’s well-educated retirees: plenty of institutions, but long waiting lists. For example, no training is available at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History until 2018 and many other area museums aren’t accepting applications at all.
But retired boomers can get their culture fix and keep the brain cells buzzing by taking lifelong learning classes at the area’s community colleges or private programs. A $525 annual membership with the Osher Institute of Johns Hopkins University includes opportunities for courses, lectures, and activities—Prehistoric Rock Art, Comparative Religions, and the Novels of John Updike are examples of what’s offered at the JHU Shady Grove campus—and the program also organizes volunteer programs at area nonprofits.
Reed and her husband, Marty, are also volunteer ushers. One night a month at Arena Stage, the Reeds seat patrons, stow walkers, give directions, and usually can grab a seat a little bit after the performance begins.
A big advantage for the no-longer-9-to-5-bunch: sparser midweek crowds at popular area attractions and the opportunity to nab tickets for limited-run events that sell out on the weekends.
And you can bring the fun to you, too. Grab a few friends and host a cooking class to learn a new cuisine or brush up on your skills. Laura Calderone, owner of Rockville-based Relish Catering, says a typical three-hour event for four costs $300-$500, depending on the ingredients and whether clients want Relish to offer wine pairings.
And for those retirees who don’t get to spend as much time as they’d like with their out-of-town grandchildren, Calderone has a thought. “If they want to babysit my kids” while Relish prepares the food, “we’d be okay with that.”