When Thelma "Pat" Smith's boss decided to bring his office into the computer age two years ago, the 72-year-old retired from her job as an accountant, ending a long and successful career.
"After 25 yearswith the firm, they brought in a computer and I quit," Smith said. "I told my boss, 'I'm too old. I'm not going to tax my brain to learn all this.'
"I've always felt bad that I turned that down," she said.
So when two Carroll Lutheran Village residents organized an introductory computer course to be taught by a Carroll Community College professor, Smith added her name to a growing list of senior citizens interested in tackling the technology.
"This was an ideal opportunity to see what I missed," she said. "And I missed a lot."
Smith is not alone in her fascination with computers -- 14 other residents of the retirement village took the $20 course this spring, including organizersGeorge M. Leilich and Clyde C. Boylls.
"Seniors are getting into computing more and more all across the country. It's just an added dimension to the things you can do personally," Boylls, 72, said.
"Ibought my first computer back in 1984," he said. "Technology has increased tremendously, but it still does what I bought it for."
Boylls uses his 7-year-old computer to do mailing lists, newsletters and volunteer work for his church.
The 12-hour course, intended as an overview of computers, included sections on Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect,dBaseIII, BASIC and other computer-related topics.
Leilich, who has a commercial driver's license, used the retirement community's vanto drive the seniors to the Carroll Community College Annex for their weekly two-hour course.
"All of us recognize that it's the electronic age, and we want to be part of it," said Leilich, 72, who originally planned to organize a computer user's course.
However, when a February announcement failed to generate enough response, Leilich altered his plans and lobbied for the beginner's course instead.
Pearl C. Helwig, who declined to give her age, lamented that she grew up in the wrong generation.
"I was born too soon, or I think I'd know a lot more about (computers)," she said. "That's the worst part ofdying -- so many things we want to do and not enough time to do it."
But Elizabeth G. Filbey, 79, said the fact that the younger generations were active with computers was what encouraged her to learn.
"If these kids could do all those things. . . . What can I do?" sheasked. "I have more knowledge than they do, but I don't have the ability to use it.
"When the telephone came out, I'm sure that our grandparents didn't want to get near it," Filbey said, explaining the hesitancy of some seniors to get involved with new technology.
For most members of the introductory computer class, those fears have been overcome.
"We're not intimidated now," Smith said. "If I had $1,600, I'd buy (a computer) right now."
The investment would be worth it to keep her various medical papers in order, she said, but it would also fulfill a deeper desire.
"I've always wanted to write a book," she said.
Smith is not the only member of the class interested in purchasing a personal computer. Filbey, and her husband, Gordon, have been shopping around for an affordable machine.
However, the price of a computer hinders many of the village residents, whose income consists of little more than a Social Security check, from buying their own model.
Instead, the group would like to get sponsors to contribute money toward a computer room in the village.
"We justhad our appetite whetted," Smith said. She said she will lobby for donations to buy computers that residents of the retirement home coulduse.
The village's resident activities coordinator said members of the computer class could acquire computers.
"This is a pioneering group," Laura F. Sinnott, 37, said. "If anybody can do it, that group can.
"It's certainly a very viable project. The seeds have beenplanted."
The success of the class has taken some people by surprise.
"It . . . has turned into something we didn't expect to happen maybe a year ago," Sinnott said. "You don't always think about seniors being interested in computers."
Encouraged by the success of the program with Carroll Lutheran Village, Kathleen T. Menasche, the community college's senior programs coordinator, said similar courses could be arranged for other groups of seniors, if they show enough interest.
"One of the goals of the community college is to be flexible and try to accommodate the training needs of the community," said the 37-year-old Westminster resident. "We had been seeing a need to respond to seniors' interest in computers."
Dorothy V. Klein, who declined to give her age, explained one reason that seniors want to learn more about computers.
"We wanted to know what our grandchildren were doing," she said. Now that she is familiar with the device, Klein said, "They are kind of surprised that Grandma knows a little bitabout what they're doing."