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Burns and JoAnne Apfeld


When the history of Oshkosh’s Learning in Retirement is written, the name of Burns Apfeld will have a prominent place. Serving as the first president in 1997, Burns and his wife JoAnne continue to be active members, attending many of the courses offered and planning and coordinating new ones. The newspaper article describing the formation of the group, and the request for volunteers to help organize it, came as Burns was retiring from his lifetime career as an executive in scrap iron brokerage. The couple was intrigued with the promise of more education offered on a less formal basis than a traditional classroom.

Burns admits that the road to creating LIR was not always smooth. It was, he recalls, his first introduction to the different approaches of business people and academics in achieving a goal. But he was impressed with the speed with which they could compromise once it became clear that the object was not to meet the needs of the board but those of ―the customers. He is also quick to give credit to those who worked to wrestle the details into place: Marcia Rossiter, the liaison from the University, Pat Kohl, John Procknow, and Dick Branigan, to name just a few.

With the recognized goal of creating a group that gives members a chance to develop and demonstrate their own skills, sample classes were offered in both semesters of 1997. By the end of that year there were approximately 80 members; that number grew to 150 by the end of the second year. As president, Burns called every single member to welcome him or her to the group and to invite active participation and feedback. JoAnne recalls his new career became conversing on the phone as he accomplished this task.

Burns cites a proud moment for the group: in 1998 a celebratory dinner was held at the University between the semesters. When it was repeated the following year, he realized that those attending were not just there for a meeting but to greet friends. Success was further in evidence two years later when Burns and JoAnne attended a conference in Washington, D.C. and found that our LIR stacked up very well against others, offering a broader curriculum with less stringent requirements.

In addition to serving as president for three years, Burns has served on the steering committee and has offered several LIR sessions (he has more in the planning stage). He is always quick to point out that being actively involved can offer even greater rewards than just attending the classes.

LIR is not the only endeavor of this active couple. They’ve known each other since junior high school near Cincinnati, where both grew up. Married for 58 years, they have three married children and six grandchildren. In addition to relocations for work (Ohio, New York, Indiana, Illinois, and finally Oshkosh) travel has always been part of their life. Their first trip to Europe came in connection with their volunteer work with the Christian Family Movement, and they were able to explore Europe with Switzerland as their base when a son lived there for five years. They have spent 35 years in volunteer work preparing couples for marriage, first addressing large groups, then working with individual couples.

A list of his hobbies is indicative of Burns’ wide ranging interests: sailing, woodworking, photography, and learning computer operations. He also recounts his two experiences at Antiques Road Show when it appeared in Milwaukee. The first time he describes as ―utter chaos: lines stretching for blocks and people waiting hours to get in. The next time the show had issued timed tickets for admission, and in just over two hours the Apfeld’s visit was complete: appraisal, an invitation to be on the show, a trip to the green room for makeup, and the filming of a spot that featured a tile painting done by Burns’ great-grandfather.

Some of the couple’s current activities revolve around the upkeep of their two acre lot; autumn finds them busy raking leaves from the many varieties of trees they have planted over the years. JoAnne shares many of Burns’ interests; he credits her with saving many of his great-grandfather’s paintings and drawings, done on Civil War battlefields, when their basement flooded. She also adds cooking and sewing to her list of accomplishments. Her background in drama has found her on stage with several theater groups and, at one time she was a radio announcer. She laughingly recalls doing the farm hour for an Ohio station in spite of her admitted fear of chickens and any large animals.
In response to the question ―”What is the most important point you would like to make for this article?”,  both Burns and JoAnne agree that LIR needs a constant inflow of new volunteers so there are always fresh new ideas, and, regardless of the organization, people are basically the same—moving forward depends on sharing and compromise. He adds, “We truly hope that our members appreciate all those whose dedication and hard work have brought LIR to this point. We urge all who have not participated in some kind of service to the group to volunteer now.”


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