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Coming Full Circle: Mike and Gwendolyn Explore the Grand Canyon

Road Scholar's first-ever employee attends his first Intergenerational program

Mike Zoob
Meet Road Scholar participant
Mike Zoob
It was not yet noon, but the temperature inside the Grand Canyon was already soaring toward 100 degrees, and as the raft dipped through the rapid, the splash of the Colorado River provided welcome relief for Mike Zoob and his 9-year-old granddaughter Gwendolyn. On shore minutes later, as program coordinator Garrett Roberts led the explorers up a canyon trail, Gwen caught up to him at the front of the group.

"Are we close?" she asked.

Garrett nodded and said, "Any minute now."

The group rounded a bend and Gwen gasped. Before her, thundering into the pools below, was the hidden waterfall they'd been seeking.

Ask Gwen to recount her favorite memory from her Intergenerational adventure with "grandpop" Mike Zoob and this is the story she tells. For her, it was the climax of an unforgettable adventure. For Mike it was the culmination of a week spent celebrating his bond with his granddaughter.

"This program was a special event in my life," he says. "Time spent with one's grandchild experiencing new things, particularly when it's just the grandparent and grandchild without the familiar presence of parents, creates a priceless opportunity for bonding with and learning about each other."

The program (Program #2520, Exploring Sedona's Red Rock Country and the Grand Canyon by River) cast Mike in the role of participant in the type of educational experience he has been helping make available to older adults for 35 years. As the first official employee of Road Scholar, Mike and two colleagues worked together in 1977 to create a not-for-profit organization that would bring Marty Knowlton's and David Bianco's revolutionary idea to fruition.

"Today," Mike says, "it's taken for granted that older adults are inquisitive and adventuresome, many of them with the means and the desire to travel and do interesting things. That was not the case in 1977."

Through the years, Mike has served Road Scholar in virtually every capacity, working to make its educational adventures available to an ever greater number of adults. He is well-acquainted with the gifts these programs provide to lifelong learners, though up until his program with Gwen he had never experienced an Intergenerational learning adventure. That all changed this year, when he arrived in Arizona not as an employee, but rather as a grandfather and participant, and discovered that even a veteran of the organization can learn a lot on a program.

"There was time for interacting one on one with Gwen," he explains, "and then there was the pleasure of watching her try things outside of her normal experience. It's fascinating to watch children go from clinging to their grandparents to coalescing in their own group. They grow right before your eyes."

Other highlights of the program included handling snakes and swimming in a river while learning how the current had carved the surrounding canyon. Gwen was particularly interested in learning about the Native American peoples who have inhabited the region for millennia. One morning on the Hualapai reservation, a great-grandmother from the tribe brought her newest great-grandson to meet the participants while she explained the traditions of her people. Only three months old, the baby wore a medicine bag around his neck.

"It was really cool," Gwen recalls. "I made one just like it with the other kids during crafts time."

Mike says his granddaughter has inspired him to continue to explore with Road Scholar as a participant.

"I now have the challenge of staying in good enough shape to attend programs with my three other grandchildren. That's something I look forward to very much."



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