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No matter what age you are, there is always something new you can learn.

That’s how Mason City native Carolyn Braastad has approached life. At 83, the retired teacher has always made a priority of following opportunities to further her education.

Carolyn Braastad - portrait

Mason City native and retired educator Carolyn Braastad stands near a “read” sign on the wall of her living room.

Braastad has bachelor degrees in both elementary education and psychology. She said she was just shy of receiving a master’s degree, but stopped pursuing it because she was already earning a master’s-level salary.

Braastad taught in a variety of locations for around 20 years, mostly in elementary education. She went on to do social work at schools for at-risk youth, was an employee at a Big Brothers Big Sisters, and spent time giving guided tours of caves in Texas. Braastad says she officially retired in 2001.

Since coming back to resettle in Mason City, Braastad has remained busy as a “student of life,” frequently going to the library and being a part of book clubs. Braastad’s passion for learning and reading is made evident by the collection of books she has, which spills into almost every room in her home. Some she has read; others are on her list.

People are also reading…

Next to a large sign on the wall that says “read,” an array of Dr. Seuss books are prominently displayed in her living room. “I really like [Seuss] because he has a lesson in all of them,” Braastad said. Agatha Christie also makes her list of favorite authors. “When I am reading for pleasure, I really like murder mysteries because I like to try to solve them.”

Along with her expansive selection of books, Braastad has a tiny outdoor library in her front yard for neighbors and passersby who want to borrow books or share one of their own. She says this was an opportunity for her to clear some old books out of her home and hopefully spark a love for reading in others.

Carolyn Braastad - yard library

Mason City native and retired educator Carolyn Braastad keeps a “take one, leave one” mini library in her front yard.

Braastad also continues her education through the literature classes she takes at North Iowa Area Community College’s Lifelong Learning Institute, noting she always looks forward to attending the classes.

“I just love to learn,” she said.

The Lifelong Learning Institute is a program that allows participants to take a wide variety of academic-level classes, but without the pressure of grades, tests, or homework. From studies about the Elizabethan Age to Soto Zen Meditation, even an Arabic-language class, many of the courses are designed around the interests of the students. 

Braastad tried her hand at learning Arabic for a bit.

“I bought an ‘Arabic for Dummies’ book, thinking that would help,” she laughed. Despite never getting a solid grasp of the language, she said it gave her some perspective of those around her who speak it.

One of Braastad’s instructors, NIACC Lifelong Learning director Darshini Jayawardena, said she has students from age 35 and up, but said the majority are of retirement age.

“My oldest member is probably 95,” said Jayawardena. “What really inspires me every day is to see these members come.” She said the classes have helped older adults remain active and create friendships.

When asked about what people could learn from Braastad, Jayawardena said it would be that learning never stops. “Just because you retire, doesn’t mean that your life’s over,” said Jayawardena. “There’s so much out there and so many things that people can do. And lifelong learners are like that. They keep coming back. They want to keep learning. It’s good for their family, their brain, their minds, and their everything. I think (Braastad) epitomizes all of that.”

“I think over the years (Braastad has become sharper). She has never stopped coming, and that, for me, is an example of her love of learning,” said Jayawardena.

Braastad agrees. “I just think it sharpens your skills all the way along. You learn things — you may forget them — but you learn them at the time,” Braastad smiled. 

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Abby covers education and public safety for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com

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