School Days

By Vernice Shostal

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Former GI, single mom, community mental health worker and police officer Dorothea Adaskin is about to embark on a new challenge - one that will have her study in Denmark.

Born of Danish parentage in Junction City, Oregon in 1924, Dorothea will attend Grundtvig Højskole, 30 minutes from Copenhagen, to experience and learn among today's students. "There is always something old and new to learn," says the veteran scholar and grandmother of three who will pursue her studies from the first of September to Christmas with the option of renewing her four-month visa and continuing studies, if she likes it.

Dorothea received a $2,020 scholarship from Parkwood Place in Victoria, where she is a resident. Jan Bard, Executive Director of Parkwood Place and Parkwood Court, established the scholarship fund to help Dorothea with her courageous and ambitious dream.

"We believe in encouraging and honouring those residents who do extraordinary things," says Director of Marketing Amber Reis. "To us, making the decision to attend university at the age of 83, and in a foreign country, was something to celebrate."

Attending school in Denmark is not new to Dorothea, who says a lifetime of events and experiences influenced her decision. The third oldest in a family of six children, Dorothea and her siblings grew up with the Danish language and traditions. "The Danes integrated into the greater society, yet their heritage was Danish," says Dorothea. Like her siblings, she learned English by playing with other children.

At age 22, after a two-year term in the navy (1944-46) where she served as a police officer on base, Dorothea first became interested in attending school in Denmark when a Danish teacher and his wife visited Dorothea's home in 1946. With $15 in her pocket, a one-way ticket and a college friend, she set out.

Following a few months' employment in a boys' detention school, she and her friend enrolled in Asksov Højskole (1947-49). Since Dorothea had served in the U.S. Navy, the president of the college she attended prior to enlistment made considerable diplomatic effort to have the school in Denmark approved for the GI Bill. "The allowance made my studies, stay and return ticket home possible," she says.

Since her attendance at Askov Højskole, Dorothea made five more trips to Denmark to travel the country, visit friends and attend a classical music festival in Roskile.

Dorothea received a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Washington after which she and her baby daughter moved to California. She continued her studies in San Diego and received a master's degree in psychiatric social work and a doctorate in psychiatric social work from Berkeley.

From California, where Dorothea spent 25 years working in Community Mental Health, she moved to Anacortes, Washington to build a 4,000-square-foot earth shelter on a one and a quarter acre hillside overlooking Guemes Channel 1,000 feet below. Single, she wanted a low maintenance home, which took advantage of the south sun for heat and light. She fenced a large area against deer for an organic garden and grew shallots as a cash crop. According to the structural engineer, the house would withstand earthquakes. Much to her delight, the deer grazed the roof and yard that was not fenced.

While in Seattle, Dorothea was recruited as a police officer, assigned to work with battered children and often went on drug patrols. At 64, while housesitting in Victoria, Dorothea met and married former University of Saskatchewan music professor and composer Murray Adaskin. Murray was 83. "Murray wrote a total of 130 pieces, 47 after we were married," says Dorothea. "His last composition, Musica Victoria 2000, was written when Murray was 94 years of age." He died in 2002.

Now a Canadian citizen, Dorothea credits Elderhostel, a program of worldwide travel for people over 50, for helping her continue living her exciting life. "Not only is there study for every imaginable interest, but travel arrangements are all beautifully managed," she says. "Enthusiasm, interest and a travel bag is all one needs to participate."

Carrying out a promise she made to her late husband that she would learn to golf when she became an octogenarian, her first experience with Elderhostel was a week of golf lessons and games, which soon became her passion. She is now on her third set of clubs. Other experiences with Elderhostel were: immersion in Greek culture, history, Homer, the National Parks of Utah, and time spent in the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary. Her latest adventure, to study in Denmark, came from an Elderhostel bulletin advertising that Scandinavian Studies assisted study arrangements in Denmark.

Dorothea intends to continue with Elderhostel trips. When Parkwood Place became her residence in 2006, she gained an additional freedom.

"Not only is daily life carefree and satisfying," she says, "but being away for a short or longer time requires only that I turn the key in the lock. My home always welcomes me when I return."

Life in Denmark has changed, but "the Danes are a resourceful, creative, educated people. They appear to successfully meet the challenge of changing times," says Dorothea, a philosophy that reflects her own lifestyle. "If I can't do that, then I can do this," she says. "I used to have big gardens, but now I can't have that, so I do something else."

Dorothea watches sports and politics and plays darts. The highlight of her life was being married to Murray, with whom she travelled extensively. An optimist, Dorothea makes the best of whatever she does and wherever she lives.

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