STORY BY SARAH FULTON
Eleven years and 600 members later the RaySociety is still providing learning opportunities to the Des Moines area.
“It is a Drake affiliated organization that consists mostly of retired people who are interested in expanding their mind and extending their network,” Denny Davis, programming chair, said.
Founded in 2004 by a group of Drake alumni, the Society was named after Drake graduate and former Iowa Governor Robert Ray and his wife Billie Ray.
This year the organization offered over 35 classes on topics ranging from tours of craft breweries to discussions about the economic situation of the United States.
“Once you are retired there are a lot of people who just feel like they do not have anything to do,” Davis said. “This provides an organized way for them to remain involved and keep engaged.”
Member Paul Horvath said that the Drake connection is “absolutely fundamental.”
“I think it is important for institutions such as Drake to have this kind of community outreach,” Horvath said. “One of the benefits of retiring in areas where there is a University that provides this service is that it improves the quality of life in retirement.”
Many RaySociety instructors are former or current Drake alumni.
Members range from former teachers to ex-lawyers to those still in the work force.
For Davis members “run the whole gambit” with one major consistency.
“We tend to be an education group that has a curiosity,” Davis said. “We wouldn’t be doing this if that weren’t the case.”
That curiosity leads to diverse topics. Davis’ first class was about the Iowa Caucuses.
His last class was about the craft brewing industry in Iowa.
During this past year RaySociety members also worked at the Iowa Public Television telethon and hosted viewings of Alfred Hitchcock films.
“The [programming] committee consists now of over 20 people so you get a wide view of what they would like to see,” Davis said. “Right now we are in the middle of planning and arranging for the fall semester.”
Former RaySociety president Lois Fingerman said not only the breadth but also the timing of classes is important.
“You join and you take what classes you want. What is remarkable is that we offer 26 or 27 different classes but they are all offered at different times,” Fingerman said. “You can take as many as you want.”
Fingerman’s goal as president was to increase membership in the society.
Over the past few years the number has grown exponentially from around 400 to 600 members.
“A lot of it is word of mouth and a lot of it is the caliber of our instructors and our members. People hear about it and they want to learn more, many of them ultimately join,” Fingerman said.
Increased membership helps to provide the social aspect of the RaySociety.
“I have met so many people that I would never have met if I hadn’t belonged to RaySociety. Connecting with people in the community is very important,” Davis said.
Helping to serve the community is at the center of the RaySociety.
In part the Society was founded as a volunteer organization. Davis said that the Society has only three paid staff members. All of the instructors are volunteers.
“Even though they do not get paid they seem to get a lot of enjoyment out of interacting with our group,” Davis said. Joy is a common thing among RaySociety members.
“It very is the best-kept secret I think in Des Moines. The classes are fabulous. We have made friends, both my husbands and I,” Fingerman said. “It has kept us very mentally alert and challenged. It has made retirement an absolute pleasure.”