Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Last Friday morning, the Arlington Learning in Retirement Institute held its seventh annual meeting at the newly refurbished Fairlington Community Center.

John Sprott, chair of the institute’s board of directors, conducted the meeting and gave the annual report, which reflected the remarkable story of ALRI’s founding and growth.

Sometime in 2002, many recently retired community activists got a call from John McCracken asking us to attend a meeting to explore the possibility of establishing a Learning in Retirement Institute in Arlington, patterned after those in Fairfax County and American University, most prominent among others in the area.

John McCracken’s history of community involvement in Arlington is a saga in itself. John was one of the founders of Arlingtonians for a Better County (ABC) which revolutionized Arlington politics in the early sixties and seventies, and served as its chair. He was the principal founder of the Arlington Soccer Association – literally creating youth soccer in Arlington. These are just a few of his long list of remarkable civic achievements.

The idea for ALRI took hold and a fledgling organization was formed and incorporated. John Sprott became chair of the board, a position which he holds to this day. It is not an exaggeration to say that John Sprott is the engine that drove, and drives, ALRI to its current position in Arlington community life.

ALRI’s membership now hovers between 650 and 700 retirees, the largest in the metropolitan area, I believe. Its close relationship with the Arlington Public Schools, George Mason University, and Marymount University, has been invaluable to its success.

It offers around 30 college level courses (without exams, required attendance, papers, and grades) a semester, taught by high level, prominent academics. The major subject areas include: Fine Arts, Theater, and Music; Health and Wellness; History; Law, Politics, and Public Affairs; Literature and Writing; Science and Technology; and Social Services.

The institute also sponsors major lectures by leaders in their respective fields – open to the public, and sponsors a host of clubs for members including book, bridge, breakfast, current issues, travel, cinema and ethnic lunch clubs.

At the annual meeting, Sprott outlined the challenges facing ALRI. Primary among them is the expansion of community outreach. For fairly obvious reasons, ALRI primarily consists of highly educated upper middle class white retirees, the bulk of whom live in North Arlington. ALRI is now actively reaching out to Latinos, and African-Americans – as well as South Arlingtonians. And it is searching for ways to attract the new retirees, largely Baby Boomers who may have different social patterns and educational interests than the older retirees who now form the bulk of ALRI’s membership. (This is changing rapidly, though. John reported that the average age of the members has dropped from the late seventies to the lower seventies as the Boomers reach retirement age.)

But meeting challenges is what ALRI is all about. It is all part of the fabled “Arlington Way” of deep involvement of citizens in a whole host of community and political activities.

For more information about ALRI, go to its web page, www.ArlingtonLRI.org. You will find it very interesting.