Claremont Senior Computer Club Makes Savvy Seniors the Norm

As a young electrical engineer in the 1960s, Tom Deno worked with some of the earliest computers. By the time he retired at age 64, he was a self-proclaimed “technology geek.” But he discovered that, among his peers, he was definitely in the minority. So he decided to do something about it and founded the Claremont Senior Computer Club in Claremont, California, in March of 1994.

“We are now the largest and most successful senior club in the city,” he says with pride. A big part of that success comes from having affordable access to the most up-to-date versions of Microsoft Office and Windows operating systems. Software donations from Microsoft through TechSoup’s donation program make this possible.

“We just wouldn’t be as legitimate — or as popular — if we were teaching our members outdated versions of the Windows operating system and Office, like Word and Excel,” Deno says.

Deno launched the senior computer club with a donated IBM XT and an ad in the local paper. To his surprise and delight, 16 people showed up to the first meeting at the Claremont Senior Center. “Everyone was crowded around our lone computer, looking over each other’s shoulders,” he recalls. “Eventually, we took up a collection to buy an adapter so we could hook the computer up to a 21-inch TV — high technology back then.”

When the club topped 60 members, it moved to a large room at the Claremont Community Center where it still holds regular meetings on Tuesday evenings, in addition to offering an impressive array of guest lectures, classes, and workshops.

Since the club collects no dues —“it’s one of the reasons we are so popular,” says Deno with a laugh, the retail cost of running the latest version of Microsoft Office and operating system on more than a dozen computers would be prohibitive for this small nonprofit. Microsoft’s software donations program enables Deno to keep the club on the cutting edge, while it focuses its efforts on education. “Some of our members have disabilities,” says Deno. “So one of our main jobs is to boost their confidence and make using computers friendly and fun.”

With the help of Microsoft and TechSoup, the Club switched to the XP operating system in 2005 and installed Windows 7 on both the classroom and instructor computers in two phases in 2010. Because so many seniors travel in the summer, the club earmarks July and August to upgrade computers and “rest up the crew.”

“We say we have as many members as will fill two columns front and back on a 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper,” jokes Deno. “We’ve had to increase the font size a bit, but that still means we have around 200 people on our active roster list at any given time.”

About 60 to 70 members regularly show up at each Tuesday meeting to discuss topics ranging from cloud computing to self-publishing, and tracing your genealogy on the Internet. On Friday afternoons, a team of volunteer techies runs a computer workshop to help members get the most out of their personal computers — including assisting with memory upgrades, software installation, and general troubleshooting. On Friday evenings, the club invites members to “Ask the Gurus” their questions. Deno, who is now 79 years old, regularly moonlights as one of the gurus, where he continues to dole out plenty of personal computing tips and tricks.

“We are one of the oldest special-interest clubs in Claremont,” says Deno. “And as we head into our 18th year, we’re still going strong.” Thanks to Deno and a little help from his friends at Microsoft and TechSoup, computer savvy is now more the rule than the exception among Claremont seniors.

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