The Age of the Sage

There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Some say wisdom must be earned by years of firsthand experience, while knowledge can be pulled from books. But Jann Freed ’77, professor emerita of business management, would say there’s even more to it. To become a sage—one renowned for wisdom—you must pay forward what your knowledge and experience has taught you.

Freed has researched and written extensively on sages. She defines them as people who embrace aging, value their life experience and feel compelled to give back.

As the baby boomers get older, Freed explains, some tend to discount the value of their experience, instead looking for ways to reclaim youth. Sages, on the other hand, recognize the potential of their years of learning. “We talk about becoming elders, not just becoming older,” Freed says.
Often this manifests itself through community service.

With open hands

Service work has become an integral part of a Central education. Since 1996, the Center for Community-Based Learning has paired thousands of students with service-learning opportunities. Many fulfill their graduation requirement for experiential learning by partnering with a community organization
for a semester.

The faculty, too, has been crucial in extending Central’s service philosophy. From 1983 to 2008, the Faculty Benevolence Association (FBA) served people from the world’s poorest countries.

The group members were first inspired to action by visiting speaker and social activist Tony Campolo. “He challenged the faculty to do more about social inequality and poverty,” says Dale DeWild, professor emeritus of sociology and former FBA member.

One of their earliest projects was sponsoring refugee families from violence-stricken Latin American countries as they relocated to new homes in Canada. Group members provided housing, food, work, social support and legal aid while the refugees were in Pella. DeWild hosted a family for nearly a year. He and his colleagues went on to develop strong relationships with villages in Latin America with whom they worked.

Perhaps their most recognized effort was the founding of The Work of Our Hands in 1989. The Pella shop sells crafts made by artisans from around the world, providing fair wages for their work. “It just felt great to provide jobs for workers who were very poor, who were selected on the basis of their need,” says DeWild.

With an open heart

But it isn’t just faculty who volunteer. As Central’s sage alumni are showing, the service culture doesn’t end at the campus borders. Many carry it with them their entire lives.

Such is the case for Jan Van Zomeran Beran ’53. Her passion for service began when she and her husband George moved to the Philippines to do missionary work. They stayed for 13 years, from 1960 to 1973. “That experience led to my understanding of the importance of diversity,” says Beran.

In her hometown of Ames, Beran served for 10 years on the Human Relations Committee, where she initiated the Dialogues Program. It was aimed at fostering interaction between diverse groups of people. “Our goal was to break down class, ethnic, racial and religious borders,” Beran explains. “I hope people see the value of getting to know one another and understand that every person, regardless of background, has value.”

As a sage, Beran cares not just about helping people but truly connecting with them. She and George hosted 15 long-term foster children and more than 60 respite youths, most of them teenagers. “We had an empty room and open hearts,” she says with a laugh, adding that it was a great experience for her family. “I’m impressed by the survivability and flexibility that these teenagers show. It’s been very gratifying to be a part of that.”

In recent years, as a member of the Alumni Advisory Council, she has been thrilled to see Central’s increasing emphasis on community involvement. Beran believes it is creating ano-ther generation of people like her, who want to use their wisdom to give back. “Service presents a change in direction for students,” she says. “It opens their eyes to the need around them and lets them see the impact they can have.”


Tell us about other Central sages you know.

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