MT. VERNON – Ann Santoro is a living definition of lifelong learning.
A resident of Greentree Assisted Living Center in Mt. Vernon, the 86-year-old Rend Lake College student has participated in 33 non-credit courses over six years with the Institute of Lifelong Learning at the college. For her accomplishment, Santoro was named the Institute’s Student of the Year during a welcome reception at the One-Room Independence Schoolhouse on the Ina campus.
“My advice to anyone who wants to enjoy a happy senior life is simple,” she stated. “Stay active and keep learning new things. Your community college can help you with both of these.”
By attending RLC, she has made new acquaintances, stimulated her mind and gained knowledge through the Institute. In addition to her involvement in non-credit coursework, Santoro went out on a limb and joined “Topics in Social Science,” which earned her three college credits this past summer. The course placed students and Jefferson County Justice Center detainees in face-to-face meetings where they talked about the justice system and social trends that influence the system. She also interacted with traditional students in an intergenerational study called “Generations Connect.”
Former RLC Board of Trustees Chairman Hunt Bonan stated, “Ann is a true ambassador of Rend Lake College. Her enthusiasm encourages lifelong learning for students of all ages.”
Although she has been busy lately, lifelong learning for Santoro began way before she moved to Illinois six years ago.
Born Anna Bielak, in 1921, to Slovakian immigrant parents who had made their home in Michigan, Santoro grew up attending public and private schools in Detroit. After graduating from high school, she moved with her older sister to Chicago where she worked as a bookkeeper, waitress and packager in a chocolate factory.
“After graduation, it was difficult to find work in Detroit,” she stated. “With all their children grown, my parents decided to buy a farm and move back to Pinconning [Mich.]. My sister and I didn’t want to move to the farm, so we went to Chicago to live. I found a job in accounting. The best part of this position was finding the errors when others couldn’t balance the accounts.”
In Chicago, she met and married Joe Santoro in the 1940s and they raised two boys and a girl, Sue Santoro, who is now Dr. Sue Tomlin, a professor of anthropology and sociology at RLC.
Ann Santoro supporter her husband’s development of his company, Standard Rug and Furniture Cleaners. Although she did not work in the shop, she would type, file and mail advertisements from their home. While the children were young, she was a homemaker.
Once the children were launched into adulthood, the Santoro’s packed up their things and left the cold Chicago winters for the sun and senior-fun of Sun City West, Ariz.
“My husband hated the cold weather,” she stated.
Life in their new, dry and warm setting suited them. Unfortunately, one year later, he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.
Faced with being alone and living away from family, she decided to stay in Arizona one more year. In that year, she had met so many new friends that her “one more year” turned into 16.
“There were so many other widows in this retirement community that I didn’t lack for friends,” Santoro stated. “And joining three social clubs helped.”
Santoro frequented classes offered at Rio Salada Community College and Arizona State University.
As the years in Arizona passed, she discovered that she was suffering from macular degeneration and her vision was declining. Since it was time to stop driving, and for other reasons, Santoro decided she would move nearby one of her children when she turned 80. In 2001, she moved to Greentree to be near Tomlin and the rest, as they say, is history.
Santoro is an active voice, recruiting her neighbors for the Institute’s courses. Jerry Jones of Greentree said he sees Santoro on a daily basis and that they are members of the same church.
“Ann is very courteous and polite to all residents in our community,” Jones stated. “She is always ready to help when needed. She has a great sense of humor that makes her a joy to be around.”
“It is a blessing that Rend Lake College has so many classes for senior citizens,” Santoro stated. “I enrolled in classes as soon as I was settled and have been attending ever since. I believe it is important to keep your mind active at all ages, but it is especially important as you reach your golden years. I’ve read that learning new things and challenging your mind are important to staying mentally sharp as you age. The programs offered at Rend Lake College help me do exactly that. I especially like the ‘arm-chair tours.’ The programs also help me make friends and to feel more connected to my new community in southern Illinois.”
The Institute of Lifelong Learning at RLC is an organization of individuals who share a common interest in lifelong learning and cultural enrichment. For additional information about the Institute, call 618-437-5321, Ext. 1267 or 1367. One can request a list of upcoming classes or see a list on-line at www.rlc.edu/pressroom.