Hesston profs LeVan and Roth speak at AARP conferences in Chicago, Topeka

Karen LeVan

Hesston College English professor Karen Sheriff LeVan and sociology professor Dwight Roth presented at the AARP conference The Power of Inclusion: Aging and Diversity in the 21st Century in Chicago. LeVan and Roth’s presentation, “Intergenerational Conversations on Aging and Diversity: Mennonite Perspectives” shared their ongoing scholarship on the positive outcomes of the intergenerational relationships fostered by the partnership between Hesston College and The Schowalter Villa retirement community.

Roth directs Hesston College’s Lifelong Education and Development (LEAD) Program and LeVan recently developed the Villa Writers Project. Students in LeVan’s College Writing classes and Roth’s sociology classes meet for weekly conversations with elders at Schowalter Villa. The students reflect on their conversations and experiences in course writing assignments and discussions.

Dwight Roth

Conference participants’ comments on LeVan and Roth’s presentation highlight the presentation’s content as well as its reception. Marty Richards, a social worker specializing in aging issues and the author of the recently published book Caresharing: A Reciprocal Approach to Caregiving and Care Receiving in the Complexities of Aging, Illness, and Disability, noted that “Karen and Dwight bring together sociology and literature interests in an intergenerational way at Hesston College and Schowalter Villa retirement community. The elders and students are blessed by it.

“Their presentation offered some core questions on religion, aging, and identity to be considered by the elders and students,” Richards continued. “And all participants learned from each other. The holistic and broad-reaching perspective that they bring to this project and that they shared in the workshop could be used in many ways beyond the Mennonite perspective. This presentation touched my mind and my heart.”

Another presentation attendee, Rita Lopienski, a community life manager at Victory Community Centre in Barlett, Ill., and whose parents are Hesston College alumni, noted that LeVan and Roth’s presentation “showed the wonderful intergenerational programming between Hesston students and the senior living residents. It motivated me to increase deep conversational opportunities at my own assisted living community in the Chicago area, to further intergenerational relationships.”

With long-term commitments to scholarship on aging, intergenerational relationships, care giving and receiving, and illness, both LeVan and Roth found the AARP conference inspiring.

After returning from the AARP conference in Chicago, Roth presented their work in Topeka at the quarterly meeting of the Kansas AARP Diversity Advisory Council. Again, the project was well received, and this time included a lively debate about the meaning of age and the implications of frailty.

Immediately following the Topeka presentation, Andrea Bozarth, AARP Kansas Associate Director, invited Roth to be a member of the state AARP Diversity Advisory Council. Roth, excited about joining this group, noted that, “This is an intellectually stimulating council representing a wide range of diversity based in racial ethnicity, sexual preference, and religious affiliation. This involvement will inform my teaching in the social science courses I teach at Hesston College.”

Located in south central Kansas, Hesston College is the two-year liberal arts college of Mennonite Church USA. Hesston offers two-year degree programs and transfer programs for more than 50 academic majors and pre-professional fields. Learn more at www.hesston.edu.