By Shanna Nichols & Christopher Squier
Grinnell alumnus and longtime resident of the town Lt. Col. (Retired) James A. Ahrens will be teaching a Bucket Course, “World War I: Causes and Consequences,” at Drake Library beginning next week, Feb. 23.
Ahrens is emeritus professor of history at Wentworth Military Academy Junior College in Lexington, MO. Although he’s retired, his passion for history has led him back to teaching.
“I’m going to be teaching about World War I, its causes and what resulted from it. We’ve got to go back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars to start that up and take it through the actual war period from 1914-1918. After that, what happened for another 20 years was the rest of the story—World War II,” Ahrens said.
As a history major at Grinnell and having served 11 years of active duty in the Air Force—through the end of the Vietnam war—Ahrens has a clearer perception of this division of history.
“Military history is what I’m interested in,” he said. “I’ve always been interested, specifically, in a lot of the stuff in the 19th to 20th century.”
Ahrens commended the Bucket Course program as a whole, which makes classes such as his available to members of the community.
“The Bucket Courses are something you want to do before you kick the bucket, so I think it’s an appropriate name. This is the third year for the course, and we have hopes we can keep on doing it, as long as we can find people to teach,” Ahrens said. “We can afford to do it if all the teachers do it without pay. What it basically boils down to is we have to pay for the cookies and coffee, and that’s about it.”
Especially for community members, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of each others’ area of expertise.
“It’s a good way for those of us who are getting on in years to keep our minds active, and also to learn a few things we didn’t have a chance to do before,” Ahrens said.
Growing up in Grinnell, Ahrens initially wanted to become an engineer, but found that history was more to his liking.
“[The College] was a highly recommended school back then. I found it to be very challenging and worked my butt off. That hasn’t changed any,” Ahrens said.
After taking up farming for a number of years after the military, he began teaching at Wentworth Academy and Junior College in Lexington, MO. There he taught ROTC students for 22 years.
“I have always loved history,” Ahrens said. “Ever since I can remember, I have read history. I can remember in the fourth grade, I picked out what I wanted to read, and that was descriptions of how airplanes and aircrafts work. I’ve been playing with this stuff forever, and that’s where I concentrated—military history.”
Being in front of a class is not a new idea for Ahrens as he has taught a number of students over the years.
“I hope I’ve been able to instill some of the values of what I learned here at Grinnell,” he said, “primarily to analyze what goes on and to draw conclusions from that analysis. Perhaps, while history doesn’t always repeat itself, there are certain things that can be learned and profited from it.”
To sign up for Ahrens’s World War I History Bucket Course, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up at Drake Community Library. The course will be offered on Wednesdays from Feb. 23 to March 30 in the Caulking Room of the Drake Community Library. Each class runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. There is a $20 fee, payable at the first class. Those seeking additional information can contact Joanne Bunge at 641-236-5321 or email email@example.com