Grandparents University 2017

Susan Manzke
Columnist Susan Manzke stands at the mouth of the Fox River observing wildlife with her grandchildren Arianna, and Eli during UWGB's Grandparents University.

In 2012, I took our grandsons, Ethan and Seth, to the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay’s Grandparents University. This year I thought it was time for another university adventure. While Ethan and Seth are grown, Eli and Arianna are just the right age—they will turn eight this August.

Our daughter Rachel thought it a great idea, too, so I signed up the twins for Animals on the Wild side.

Transporting the kids from their home to ours was tricky. To make sure we were at the university on time, Eli and Arianna stayed the night with us—it ended up being two nights.

We were afraid Eli might have an allergic reaction to our cats, but he did surprisingly well: I keep the cats out of our spare bedroom, so there was no fur for him at night, but even during the day Eli survived.

Pre-university, we had days on the farm. Grandpa Bob and I took our two carts out for nature rides with our grandchildren. One evening we saw deer, cranes, and distant turkeys. To top off the evening, we had visitors on our front porch.

Eli and Arianna were already upstairs when I noticed a young raccoon coming up to munch on the leftover cat food. I immediately called the kids down to see. By the time they got down the stairs, the mama raccoon had arrived with the rest of her almost grown litter. There were six babies! A total of seven with mama—that sighting turned out to be one of the highlights of our time together.

At the university, we had a suite of rooms—we had so much room for our stay we could have invited the raccoons to join us.

Animals on the Wild Side starts in a classroom with a Power Point presentation—I have to admit that after a night of little sleep, I almost dozed off. Afterward, we went into the lab where all kinds of preserved animals were kept for study.

Eli looks out across Green Bay at the American white pelicans.

Eli asked what a large skeleton standing on a table was. He found out it was a bear. While he was looking closely at the bear, Arianna gravitated toward a reptile terrarium. The live fox snake attracted her more than any of the animals on display.

After being shown hummingbird to ostrich eggs, we saw ermine and mink furs and many types of bird species studied at the university.

Eventually, Professor Erdman ended our afternoon by introducing the fox snake to all his students. It did not surprise me that Arianna was first in line to hold the snake. Others got to hold the snake, too, but our granddaughter had it in her hands multiple times—she’s such an animal lover. When by a lake, she fishes and then catches frogs, all are released back to the wild.  I could tell by the light in Arianna’s eyes that she would have loved to take this fox snake home.

Our second day of class had us on a school bus. Our first stop was at the mouth of the Fox River. There we viewed white pelicans, terns, crows, osprey, and many other birds—we witnessed both terns and pelicans diving into the water for fish.

Our stay included meals at the university. My picky eaters had to be encouraged to choose from the menu and then eat it. My trump card to get them to finish was dessert. When their plates were clean they could go to the soft-serve machine and dish up ice cream and top it—Eli liked sprinkles and Arianna preferred marshmallows.

So much more took place in such a short time: balsawood airplane flying with new friends, Frisbee flinging, running in the rain to dinner—I can’t begin to tell all. All I know is that these two are already figuring on next year’s trip to Grandparent’s University.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;