Someone to know: A lifelong learner with a passion for sharing
As seen in Chicago Tribune Prime Time

He’s both a life-long learner and teacher. Don Peck, a resident of GreenFields of Geneva senior living community, has a passion for learning and then sharing what he knows. At 90 years old, Peck spends much of his time reading, learning, and researching a wide variety of topics, mostly relating to science. He then recycles his extraordinary breadth of knowledge by making it engaging and comprehensible and then presenting it to others.

For many years Peck worked professionally in academia, teaching chemistry, physics, and geology at the high school and college level. A self-professed Ph.D. drop-out, Peck explains that while completing his doctoral program in mineralogy and science education, he shifted gears in order to write science textbooks. 

Peck says that he is “enthralled by the sciences.” He adds that he first started sharing his interest and knowledge in fifth grade, and “consequently, I haven’t been able to stop teaching since. It’s in my blood.” 

Instructing others

Although retired in theory, Peck continues to work just about every morning, collaborating on, the world’s largest open database of minerals, rocks, etc. He helps users from around the world on a forum perform tests in order to identify minerals that they’ve found. He also writes web pages for the site. 

Peck develops life-long learning programs for his fellow-residents at GreenFields. A popular speaker, he creates presentations on a variety of topics. He says that he loves researching various subjects for his own education and then putting what he learns together to share. 

“I have a broad knowledge, but not necessarily a lot of depth. I look for topics that I think will be interesting. When I come up with one, I develop it, laying it out in PowerPoint for visuals. I do a lot of research. I want to make sure I know what I think I know,” he says. 

“Don is an absolute gift to GreenFields,” says Karen Tomko, life enrichment manager at GreenFields. “Not only does he have knowledge of everything from the dinosaurs, to natural disasters, to famous women in science, he is an excellent teacher. He explains everything in a way that we can all understand while keeping everyone engaged and entertained.” 

Peck’s passion includes talking about global warming, and he says he’s also interested in talking about women in science who have historically been mistreated. Additionally, he says, “One of my favorite presentations, and one that I consider being among my best, was ‘The Day the Dinosaurs Died.’” 

To date, he believes he’s delivered almost 20 different presentations to his captivated audiences at GreenFields. 

Other passions

Peck is also a genealogy enthusiast and launched the family tree group at the senior community, in which he encourages residents to research their roots. “My aunt got me involved with genealogy. She made the point, and it’s an accurate one, that genealogy is both infectious and addictive. I have traced my family, and I can take it back not only to the Mayflower but all the way to the Roman Empire,” he says. 

Peck is also interested in and exceedingly comfortable with technology. “Many years ago, I took courses in a couple of programming languages. I’ve been using computers since 1970. I’ve written programs that have gone commercial,” he adds. 

Peck, who along with his late wife was among the first residents of GreenFields when it opened nine years ago, says that he tries to be involved in the many programs and activities offered at the senior living community. “But I spend a lot of time researching, and I have a bad habit. I get involved with what I’m reading about, and I forget to go to the activity,” he confesses. 

When asked to describe himself, Peck says, “I’m looking to make sense out of things. One thing I’ve gotten challenged on through the years is how to square science with religion. I think of it as being two sides of the same coin. Science is what we know; religion is what we believe. The boundary between the two shifts a little bit now and then, but I’ve never found any conflict between the two.”