Sharing a senior student's story
Contra Costa College alumni Federico Casanares (left), 82, shares memories and lunch with adjunct professor Fritz Pointer in the Three Seasons Restaurant on Feb. 25. The two meet at the restaurant twice a week. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate
The business card he handed me last fall at the College Skills Center reads Federico (Fred) Casanares - "Professional Senior Student." Fred walks the talk and talks the walk of a man who is constantly seeking to learn, grow and succeed as a scholar.
The dictionary defines professional as "following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain." Senior is "older or elder" and "of higher or of the highest rank or standing." Student is "any person who studies, investigates or examines thoughtfully."
Fred was born in New London, Conn. on Dec. 24, 1931. "I got shafted out of my first Christmas by coming out of the shaft one day early," he said with a sly smile.
He is now 82 years old and overjoyed to be alive, sane, healthy, happy and mentally alert. Most of his original playmates aren't playing anymore in the sandbox of life.
Fred grew up in West Oakland at Tenth and Chestnut.
"I originally intended to go to University High School, but they closed it. So I started high school at McClymonds and then transferred to Oakland Tech. Tech had a better academic program with the best teachers, plus I wanted to be on the gymnastics team. I won first place in the all-around competition at the Oakland High School Gymnastics Championship Tournament in 1949. People still stop me and say they saw me win that tournament," Fred said with a tone of obvious pride.
He continued, "I graduated from Tech in January of 1950. When I started at CCC in September of 1950 I had no idea what a college major was. After one semester I decided to major in music. It was a no-brainer for me.
"My mom had bought me an alto sax when I was in elementary school. I've always loved all kinds of music, but jazz has been my favorite," he said.
Fred attended CCC off and on for the next dozen years while working part time or full time.
He graduated in 1963 with an associate degree in music. "I've always loved the variety of courses available as well as the student/staff cultural diversity here at CCC," he said with a note of nostalgia in his voice.
He can usually be found at noon Tuesday and Thursday at The Senior Scholars Seminar table in the Three Seasons Restaurant on campus.
"The food is well-prepared and nutritious. I always have fun talking smack at (emeritus CCC English professor) Fritz Pointer about our misspent youth in West Oakland. I lived in the upper crust section," he said, followed by a loud laugh.
Fred now resides in reckless retirement in Richmond with his wife Lita. Their six children have grown, gone and started their own families. He retired after 26 years of community service with the City of Richmond Housing Department. His last position was housing finance representative. "It's a fancy title for somebody who processed home improvement loans," he said.
"Eight years ago there were three generations of my family attending, or involved at, CCC. My youngest son, Phillip, daughter Natasha, and I were taking classes while my grandson was doing his thing in the Child Care Center. Phillip was preparing to graduate with a triple major in English, history and film-making," Fred said proudly. Since he graduated, Fred has taken or audited courses at CCC in the fundamentals of cooking, Spanish, fitness training principles, pre-algebra, nutrition, Latin jazz dance, yoga, step aerobics and others. He is the product of modest, humble parents. His Filipino father served his career as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. His mom was a loving, nurturing black/Native American/Irish melting-pot homemaker.
His next planned classroom challenge will be Tagalog.
"My dad was traveling a lot while on duty, so I never had a chance to become fluent in the language of my Filipino roots. I did learn a few words of profanity, which I still use occasionally," he said, followed by a huge grin.
When asked why he keeps taking classes at CCC he quickly replied, "To ward off the potential pull of early dementia and Alzheimer's. I don't want to end up somewhere as a doofus talking to myself or not knowing what my name is."
Fred's other passions in life are being a life-long member of the Oakland Raider Nation and a season ticket holder, spending time with his grandchildren, listening to jazz and making this world a more healthy, sane and serene space for all.
About possible changes or improvements at CCC he said, "Someday I would love to see the law rolled back to when seniors were able to attend CCC for free. The policy when I graduated was a free education for all California community college students. All you had to do was sign up for class and buy your books. Those were the good old days. Now it costs everybody $46 a unit. If you're an international student you get grabbed for $200+ a unit."
How would folks personify Fred Casanares? The consensus is he's a chronologically-gifted, warm, friendly, intelligent man who loves to laugh. He thoroughly enjoys the challenges of the world of academia. He is CCC's resident educational excellence role model and gold standard. He's Diogenes without the lamp wearing a CCC Comets cap and sweatshirt.
"Do you remember the 'Superfly' album by Curtis Mayfield back in the day?" he asked. "One of the songs is titled 'Freddie's Dead.' Well, this Freddie is not dead yet. Todavia estoy vivito y coleando (that's Spanish for I'm still alive and kicking)."
"I don't plan to just sit around getting old and ugly. I'm going to do all I can to keep living a quality life while I continue learning one day at a time, thank you very much. Peace out, bro."
Peace out to you too, Fred. You "da professional senior student." Keep on keeping on with your bad senior self.
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