Old And Young Share Thirst For Knowledge

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B.J. Welsh is 13. Robert Tarallo is 70.

Under normal circumstances, the paths of the two Payson residents might never cross. But Welsh and Tarallo are both students at Gila Community College, a place where young and old come together to create a learning environment that is mutually rewarding and enlightening.

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When you're one of the oldest students at Gila Community College, a magnifying glass can be one of your best friends. Robert Tarallo, 70, demonstrates its use to 13-year-old B.J. Welsh, GCC's youngest student.

Welsh, the youngest student at GCC, is being home-schooled by his mother. He is taking some advanced math classes to supplement his education.

"I took one semester when it was Eastern Arizona College and now I'm taking intermediate algebra at Gila," he said.

Welsh and his family moved to Payson four years ago from Hayward, Calif.

"My uncle was the first to discover Payson," he said. "Then my grandparents moved. Then we moved."

Tarallo and his wife moved to Payson from the Valley where he worked for Bashas' grocery stores. He has lived in Arizona for 40 years.

"We had a summer place up here for years," he said. "I always wanted to retire here."

But one of the things he did before making the decision to move here full time was to check out the local community college. It offered what he wanted, and now he's a college student for the first time in his life.

"When I graduated from high school in 1950, (I had to) get a job and help the family," Tarallo said. "We got paid, took our money home, and pooled it."

Both Welsh and Tarallo feel the diversity of ages at GCC is an advantage.

"The older students are automatically going to have more wisdom," Welsh said. "They're more mature than me, so I don't see how it cannot work to my benefit."

Tarallo says the young students at GCC have been a real eye-opener.

"When I started going to Gila, I was surprised at how smart and studious these younger people were," he said. "The only thing I knew about them was what I saw in the movies. You know, spring break for college students and they're partying and wild. I said, ‘Wow, I can't believe how knowledgeable they are.'"

Tarallo also commented on the poise and sophistication of today's young people compared to his generation.

"B.J. speaks so well," he said. "When I was his age, I was shy. You wouldn't have interviewed me at his age."

Tarallo, who is taking a final humanities class that will complete his general studies degree, doesn't think older people have the wisdom market cornered.

"I learn more from (young students) than they do from me," he said.

A part-time musician all his life, Tarallo also spends time with young people as the volunteer band director at Julia Randall Elementary School.

"It's my first experience teaching," he said. "When I agreed to do it, I didn't realize these kids had never played before. I said, ‘Are we calling this a band?'"

While Welsh is home-schooled, he plays on the Rim Country Middle School football and wrestling teams and otherwise enjoys a well-rounded childhood. He hopes one day to be an FBI agent.

"I want to go to NAU and study law enforcement," he said. "That's interested me since I was little."

Both Welsh and Tarallo recommend the community college experience and heartily endorse the concept of lifelong learning.

"I have great teachers and great adults in my classes," Welsh said. "I'll always be a student."

Welsh agrees.

"Between 1950 when I got out of high school and 1989 when I took my first college course, I just worked and played in a band," he said. "Now learning is so important to me. Looking back, I wish I hadn't gone 40 years without being in school."

Welsh, for one, is glad Tarallo isn't afraid to walk into a classroom with younger people.

"I think it's great that he's taking classes," he said. "Instead of sitting home doing nothing, he's expanding his mind."

Tarallo says seniors have nothing to fear from the community college experience.

"Another senior told me if I want to learn something, why don't I just go to the library," he said. "But I enjoy communicating, talking to people. I remember every instructor I've ever had."

Age, he says, is simply not an excuse anymore.

"It doesn't even feel like I'm one of the oldest students," he said. "I get to know the young students as well as the old ones. I say (to them), ‘I'm a student just like you.'"

For more information on course offerings at the Rim Country campus of Gila Community College, call 468-8039, go to www.gilaccc.org or visit the campus at Highway 260 and Mud Springs Road.

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