About The Gentrain Society

We occasionally send important notices and reminders by email (to Society Members only).  If your email address has changed, or you have never supplied it, and you would like to get these notices, please send your email address to membership@gentrain.org.

(We don't share these with anyone, not even MPC.)

The Gentrain Society is a volunteer auxilliary of Monterey Peninsula College, that

Here's a YouTube video of a 2009 interview in which Professor Alan Haffa, Gentrain Director, explains the MPC Gentrain Course and the Society.

See other areas of this website for details of these undertakings.

The Society was formed in 1983 to help financially support the Gentrain Program at Monterey Peninsula College. The dues of $35 per person and $50 per couple, are paid annually and assist the Society to provide programs which include: a special lecture given on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month (free of charge), field trips and special events, and a scholarship fund. The Gentrain Society lends its support to the Gentrain Courses given in four-week, two-hour units on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.

The Gentrain Society members receive a bi-monthly newsletter, The Conductor, a free MPC parking permit decal for the Wednesday lectures, and postcard reminders about the lectures and events. In addition, through donations, the Society maintains a Gentrain Scholarship Fund.

Why not fill out our membership application and join us now!
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Society History (Grant Voth)

In May of 2021 Gentrain completed its 49th year at MPC. The program was born in 1972, the conception of a handful of faculty members and MPC Dean Philip Nash, all of whom were unhappy with the smorgasbord approach to general education then (and still) prevalent in colleges and universities. The two formative ideas behind the program were to make it interdisciplinary, so that the relationship of, say, the French Revolution, the painting of Delacroix, Goethe's Faust, Beethoven's Third Symphony, and Kant's philosophy could be worked out in class, giving an integrated picture of an age, and to modularize the course so that community college students, many of whom worked and/or had families, could come and go as their schedules permitted. Thus the course was to be offered in fifteen two-week units, rather than in two semester-long ones. One unit of credit was to be awarded for each two-week class, since the program was initially devised with traditional transfer students in mind. The name is an acronym for "General Education Train of Courses," suggesting both that traditional students could achieve most of their general education credits in the course and that, like a train (which still appears in the biweekly ads in the GO section of the Herald), the program would stop every two weeks at an important "depot" in Western history, classical Greece, ancient Pome, the Reformation, the French Revolution.

A modest Pilot Grant from the NEH provided the initial start-up funds, and the program went into the classroom in the fall of 1974. It came as something of a surprise that the initial students were almost entirely retired people from the area, coming back to school to fill in gaps in their own education or to revisit favorite sites in the journey through Western history. A non-credit version of the class was subsequently created to free these folks from the (for them) unnecessary burden of tests and essays. Retired men and women and re-entering students have continued to provide the largest percentage of students in the class for the last two decades.

By 1985 some 1000 local residents had been through Gentrain. One of them, in a news story a local television station was doing on our program, asked whether "there was life after Gentrain." That started us thinking about what eventually became the Gentrain Society. Originally called "Friends of Gentrain" this concept was invented one summer afternoon at Alison's family compound in San Jose by Rich Kezirian, Rick, Alison, and myself. The four of us ran the (renamed) Gentrain Society for two years before we turned it over to the members, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Our symbiotic relationship with the Society is one of the happiest unexpected events in a history full of surprises, and while there are by now members of the Society who have not taken the Gentrain program, most have, and the core of the Executive Committee over the years has been composed of alumni from our program, without whose support--emotional, intellectual, and financial--we would probably not have made it this far.

The more or less traditional road to the Gentrain Society is thus still through the Gentrain program. So we invite all of you who have not as yet attended to do so, and to those of you who already have, we invite you back for another ride on the Gentrain. Its journey past and through the major moments and figures in Western history is still fueled by the same enthusiasm that inspired its visionary founders nearly three decades ago, and we'd love to have you with us.

Grant Voth

Society History (John Hastings)

In August of 1983, Dr Grant Voth, Gentrain Program Coordinator, supported by Program alumni, proposed the formation of the Gentrain Society to support the Gentrain Program financially in times of short budgets, and to continue the Gentrain experience and the members' interest in lifelong learning.

Annual dues of $15 per person and $25 for a family were proposed, with the membership year to begin September 1 to coincide with the academic year. Benefits for members would be a series of four programs a year, at rotating sites, in September, November, January and March, plus a regular newsletter. The Program would include seminars, workshops, lectures, field trips and some social affairs .

This proposal was enthusiastically received. In the spring of 1984, the Society was able to fund $3,500 for the purchase of a much needed three bulb, Nova-Beam, large screen, video tape projector for the Gentrain Program.

In 1985, as membership neared 200, the need was felt to formally organize, and a small committee was formed to prepare the first constitution and bylaws. An organizational structure of Executive Council, Committees, Program, Dues and Communications was established, very similar to that which exists today. (Members-at-Large were added in 1987.)

The first Executive Council meeting was held on September 25, 1985. There were 178 paid up members and $7,000 in the bank. Sherman Lebo was president.

The first Manual of Operation was prepared in August 1987. It has since gone through six editions, most recently May 1997, as the organization has matured. In addition to the original committees, Short Courses and Special Events were formed in September 1990, Scholarships in May 1991 and Volunteers for MPC in September 1991.

A quarterly newsletter, the Conductor, was first issued in September 1985. It consisted of four 6"x6" pages and was printed at MPC. In the spring of 1989 it became four commercially printed 8 1/2"x11" pages. In February/March 1992 it was enlarged to six pages and produced by Society member Ken Roberts every two months. In December 1997 it was expanded to eight pages, and reported on the Gentrain Program as well as the Society. In the fall of 1986, The Conductor masthead added "Leading the Way to Lifelong Learning," and in the spring of 1987, the Door logo and motto "A Door to Lifelong Learning" was adopted as designed by first Society President Sherman Lebo.

Additional communications include monthly postcards, short course ads (paid by MPC), Gentrain Program Unit ads (paid by the Society since the fall of 1994), and public service news releases to local media and community centers.

In December 1990, MPC Administration approved the present Society office in LF204 of LF104 above the graphic arts section.

From 178 members in September 1985, membership has grown steadily to the present 708 in April 1998, including 534 memberships of singles and couples. Beginning September 1, 1990 free parking permit decals were distributed to all members for MPC parking for Wednesday lectures.

In late 1994, the Monterey Peninsula College Foundation was formed as a non profit corporation to support MPC programs of public and community education with purposes similar to the more informal Gentrain Society. The Society is cooperating closely with the Foundation in several areas. In 1997 a program of Campus Tours was begun to better acquaint the community with MPC, and to seek their input and support for MPC educational programs. Society members are active members of the Campus Tours Committee and are also included in the Foundation's leadership. A high priority for Foundation support is to refurbish the Lecture Forum building which was constructed in 1968. As the home of the Gentrain Program and Society lectures, short courses and office, the Society has a major interest in supporting this effort. In 1988 and 1997 the Society funded the refinishing of the Greek lettered redwood beam fascias. A Gentrain Society couple (anonymous) has deposited $10,000 in stocks with the Foundation for this project. In addition, because of the Foundation's IRS status, it is deemed best that Society members' donations in support of Society programs should flow through the Foundation. An exception would be the scholarship program.

Since its inception, the Society has budgeted funds in support of the Gentrain Program for use as the program coordinator deems necessary. In 1997 a committee was appointed to plan an appropriate event to honor the Gentrain Program, its founders, guest lecturers and current faculty for the excellence of the program. This dinner event was held on November 9, 1997 at Rancho Canada with two hundred thirty-four people attending.

Since the current faculty had expressed an interest in expanding the Gentrain Program from Western civilization to World civilization, in their honor the Society contributed $6,800 for this purpose, $5,000 from the Society budget and $1,800 from donations. The first of these new courses were two short courses held in February and April of 1998. More will follow. In addition, other campus needs have been funded as funds became available such as the student book loan fund, art gallery, special lectures, telescope, etc.

Additional support by the Society to MPC and the Gentrain Program includes time donated by volunteers and materials of different kinds.

It is expected that this mutually beneficial relationship between the Society, MPC and the Foundation will endure and prosper.

John Hastings