Channing House: Where Lifelong Learning and Travel Go Hand-in-Hand

When discussing Channing House and its residents, one thing is eminently clear — “Amazing Lives Here” is not just a catchphrase — it comprises a fitting description of the members of this community. Martha Claypool and Prue Breitrose are the embodiment of that characterization. Spending an hour with these two remarkable women is like watching a fascinating travelogue on television. If there’s a spot on this planet where these women haven’t been, chances are they’ll get there.

For these women, the concept of lifelong learning is not something you gain in the classroom or a course you take on the computer — although they’ve both done that. Their classroom is the planet.

For Martha, who’s lived at Channing House for five years, and Prue, who’s lived here for seven, travel comes naturally. “I grew up in the Philippines,” Martha says. “My family traveled around Asia and back to the states. My husband and I traveled as well. After he passed away, I found Road Scholar (a nonprofit that provides educational travel programs primarily geared to older adults). Now I go all over the place, although it’s mostly international.”

Prue, who hails from the U.K., also travels via Road Scholar programs. While Martha has taken 49 Road Scholar trips, Prue has just completed her 40th. “This year,” she says, “I’ve had one trip down to the California Channel Islands and a safari in southern Africa, and I just came back from a trip to Iceland. Next year I’ll be going to Italy, Japan and the Himalayas.”

So how did these two world travelers end up at Channing House? Prue met her husband — a Stanford professor — in Europe, and she lived on campus, a mile or so from Channing House. And she knew several Stanford people who had moved here.

Martha’s story is also interesting. “Members of my family were interned in the Philippines during World War II,” she says. “My family moved back to the Philippines after the war, and I stayed there until I left for college.” She majored in math at Stanford, eventually becoming a software developer. “Interestingly,” she says, “years later when I moved to Channing House, there was a woman here who’d been in the same internment camp in Manila during the war that my family had been in.”

For her part, Prue attended Cambridge where she co-edited the student literary magazine, which led her to journalism. “I started on magazines before coming to San Francisco to work on a newspaper for a while, then went back to England for a job in television. After I got married, I worked as a writer in health education at the Stanford Medical School. Finally, I turned to children’s books, and I’ve had three middle-grade novels published by Disney.”

Speaking with these intrepid world travelers is a bit humbling. If they weren’t both so down-to-earth, it could actually be a bit intimidating. That’s why it was so surprising to hear Martha laughingly say, “It was difficult to reach the point where I could tell someone else, much less myself, that I was going to move to an ‘old age home.’”

But Channing House is hardly the typical ‘old age home,’ as Martha soon discovered. “When you get here you realize just how much is going on. We have trouble scheduling things because everybody’s so busy.”

“The thing about Channing House,” Prue explains, “is that we do everything ourselves. We don’t have any sort of activities director. There are so many committees and so much happening that it keeps an energy going. This is the best place to be — it’s amazing.”

Martha picks up on the educational benefits that life at Channing House offers. “We have a lot of speakers here,” she says, “talking about a wide range of subjects. Additionally, residents give monthly talks about their history, what they’ve done and their travels.”

“Or about anything else they are passionate about,” Prue says. “For example, we just had an excellent lecture on Leonardo da Vinci given by a resident who has studied him for years.”

“We also have a great many trips to museums and other interesting places,” Martha says, “and there are buses to San Francisco for the symphony and the ballet.”

For both, the closeness to Stanford University is a great advantage: Martha’s daughter works in the university’s athletic department — an added inducement to attend sporting events. As well as going to many concerts and sporting events on campus, Prue signs up for two or three of Stanford’s continuing education classes each year, mostly on politics or literature.

We asked for photos taken on their travels, but Prue said, “I don’t take pictures of myself traveling. I did once have a section on my website with photos of my feet in about 40 different sites all over the world. The pyramids. The Eiffel Tower. Even the Sistine Chapel, though it was not easy getting that shot.”

Prue then showed us one of the few photos she has of herself — her entire self — in Iceland, with one foot on the Eurasian tectonic plate and one on the American tectonic plate.

Martha mentions trips to India and Japan as among her favorites. “I’ve been to so many interesting places,” she says. “One of my more recent trips, just before the pandemic, was to Iran. My education comes from travel. After all, you’ve gotta move with the times.”

After spending an hour with Martha and Prue, there’s no doubt. Moving with the times is what continues to keep these women active, engaged, continuously learning and incredibly young at heart.

If you’d like to find out how life at Channing House inspires people like Martha and Prue to never stop learning about the world around them, call 650-529-4871 to schedule your personal tour.

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