Instructor Bios

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Cheray Bixler started learning sign language at the age of seven, when her sister was born deaf. By the age of fourteen, she was interpreting at a special needs school for deaf students in upstate New York. When she entered high school, Cheray took American Sign Language as her language requirement for graduation. After moving to Alabama in 2004, she studied ASL at Bishop State Community College for four years and worked as an aide for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Mobile. She has also worked as an interpreter in the Pensacola school system, with people who are both blind and deaf. Cheray sees a great need for people who can sign and learn ASL and believes this is especially important for professionals who may come in contact with the deaf.

James Bond who is teaching the course, A Fairhope Immigrant’s View of Vietnamese and American Cultures, emigrated from Vietnam directly to Fairhope at the age of 15.   He is a very funny fellow, ESILL Board member Art Holder attests.  See for yourself in this piece that James wrote: “I am a drop out specialist. I have dropped out of grade school, high school, seminary, religion, college, restaurateur, US Supreme court, tennis pro, engineer, physicist, chess grand master, millionaire, cultures, country...I am currently working on dropping out of father, lover, husband, billionaire, life...What I have achieved is to never stop learning.”

Anne Brooks earned a Bachelors of Interior Design degree from Auburn University and an M.A. degree in Art from Spring Hill College. She is a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists and the Watercolor and Graphics Society of Mobile. Her work has been exhibited in various venues in Demopolis, Mobile, Dauphin Island and the Eastern Shore. Anne has taught art at the Sybil Smith Family Village in Mobile and the Fairhope Artists Co-operative Gallery.

John Brown holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and Finance from Florida State University and is a Certified Financial Planner. In 1986, he founded Brown Financial Advisory, a fee-only financial planning/investment firm located in Fairhope. During his career, he served on a number of local and national professional boards, wrote financial columns for a local newspaper, presented financial and retirement planning seminars for employees of various companies, and taught financial classes for the University of South Alabama. Since selling his business in 2010 and retiring, he has served as a Certified Financial Mentor. After his retirement, Brown met author Mitch Anthony and read his book, The New Retirementality, about achieving a fulfilling, purposeful retirement. He found the work both inspirational and practical and is basing his course on its methodology for guiding anyone who is already retired or planning to retire soon.

Mike Bunn is the Director of Historic Blakeley State Park. He is author or co-author of a number of books, including Civil War Eufaula; Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812; and Images of America: The Lower Chattahoochee River. His book Alabama: From Territory to State is scheduled to be published by the University of Alabama Press in 2018. He is also co-author of Mississippi: 1798-1840, which is forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi.

Christina Caprez  has been studying yoga since 1997 in Fairhope and around the country. One of the very first yoga instructors in the area, she started teaching at ESILL in 2000. Shortly thereafter, she began teaching at the Grand Hotel Spa. She also teaches at the Lakewood Club, taught at the University of South Alabama and the Eastern Shore Arts Center among other places. Christina is constantly learning new ways to strengthen the body by using the breath and releasing tense muscles. She firmly believes that a regular yoga practice will give you a deeper understanding of your body’s needs..

Barb Comstock comes from a green thumb family: her father was a research geneticist with the USDA and her mother was a florist. Along with her husband Peter, she raised her three children on an apple orchard and small crop farm in Minnesota. While her degrees are animal oriented, and her career was in human resources, when they moved here six years ago, she fully embraced the “gardeners paradise” of gardening in the South. Her specialties are tropical and sub tropical plants and propagation. She is a Baldwin County Master Gardener and on their Speakers Bureau.

Carl Couret, a retired fish and wildlife biologist who worked in Hawaii, New Mexico, Alabama, and Florida, has been a resident of Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore for over 30 years.  Although he played woodwind instruments in the school band while growing up in New Orleans, it wasn’t until 2010 that he became interested in playing music again, bought his first ukulele at a flea market, and took an Introduction to Ukulele course with ESILL.  He has been playing ukulele since then with local folk music groups and clubs at various venues in Fairhope, Pensacola, Albuquerque, and Hawaii.  Carl is a longtime member and “luna” of the Eastern Shore Ukulele Club (on Facebook), which has open, informal jams most Mondays at the Unitarian Fellowship in Fairhope.

Margaret Davis  Davis is a retired professor from Spring Hill College where she taught courses in Latino/a-American literature and American literature of all genres.

Arlene DiPietro will assist Martin Powell in the Easy Bridge course in the “playing of the hands”. She has been playing Bridge for several years and is currently Club Manager of the Gulf Shores Duplicate Bridge Club.

Roxann Dyess is a native Mobilian who has enjoyed art all her life. After retiring from Probate Court of Mobile County after 30 years of service as a paralegal and elections coordinator, she returned to her love of art by jumping in with both feet! She is President of the Mobile Miniature Club, Past President of the Mobile Art Association, President of the Alabama Miniature Art Society and member of the Watercolor and Graphics Society. In 2016 she attended training in Providence, Rhode Island to become a Certified Zentangle® Teacher (CZT) and is happy to share this relaxing and simple art form with others..

Wendy Gosnell is a Certified Professional Secretary, with an Alabama Life, Health and Disability license and an Alabama Real Estate license; a California Insurance Property and Casualty Agent with Brokers licenses; and a Financial Paraplanner. She developed “Taming the Paper Dragon,” a system to organize paperwork and simplify lives, after working with people who had lost family members and needed guidance on how to collect benefits. Her previous experience in helping set up small companies – filing and archiving systems, customer service, shipping, and other departments – provided the foundation for preparing her guide. In her leisure time, Gosnell has enjoyed knitting since she was eight years old, finding great joy and comfort in the click of the needles, the sliding of the yarn though her fingers. She pursues different types of projects – from simple potholders to knitted lace hats, and everything in between. She designed scarves for “Knit Your Bit” at the World War II Museum in New Orleans for their Tenth Anniversary, honoring family members who served in the Army Air Corps and Merchant Marines. Her pet project now is knitting hats for the veterans at the William F. Greene facility in Bay Minette.

Rosanne Gulisano is the founder and facilitator of Lifestories: Creating a Memoir, a memoir-writing workshop. She has been writing and speaking about memoir-writing since 1999. Her mission is to encourage people from all walks of life to write their own life story for future generations. She has started several successful ongoing memoir-writing groups and has taught her workshop for lifelong learning programs, women’s clubs, libraries, park district programs and in community college classes. Rosanne is a freelance memoir ghostwriter and has written several biographies as well as a 50th anniversary corporate history and a community memory book.

Blair Heald is a specialist in gifted education with the Baldwin County School System. She will soon be awarded a Ph.D. in education, with an emphasis on gifted education, from Northcentral University. Blair began making Temari in the late 1990s in an ESILL course. Since then, she has become a Temari instructor and teaches it to her intermediate school students. She is certified through level two (Koutouka Shuuryou) with the Japanese Temari Association and plans to pursue the final two levels of certification. She has visited the Temari Museum in Tokyo on two separate visits to Japan.r still teaches gifted education at W. J. Carroll Intermediate School where her students work on Temari every year.

Brenda Huchingson holds a Ph.D. degree in English literature.  She taught college English for over 30 years at Tulane University, the University of South Carolina, and Hampton University in Virginia.  Brenda is the ESILL Registrar.

Ronald Hunt is a Masters-level trained economic philosopher, writer, and nonconformist who shares his journey with esoteric symbolism. Ancestral ties to Western wisdom, Transcendentalism, and a deep respect for Eastern philosophy create journeymen and women who believe all paths when successfully discerned lead to Abraham Maslow's idea of self-actualization.

Glen Isaacs, a native of California, holds a B.A. degree from Sonoma State College in California and an M.A. degree from Northern Illinois University.  He is a retired U.S. Merchant Marine Staff Officer, having served with the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command for 26 years.  Before that, he served with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard and Reserve.  Isaacs, who was a college and university professor for 15 years, is a speaker on military and naval topics and a writer of military and naval fiction and non-fiction.  He is currently completing a historical novel, Death and Deceit, to be published this year, about the events covered in his “Exercise Tiger” course.

Mara Kozelsky, who holds an M.A degree from West Virginia University and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Rochester, is a Professor of History at the University of South Alabama. Her research focuses on Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea, where she has lived, visited, and worked. She has published numerous books and articles relating to religious and political history, with a book forthcoming on the civilian experience of the Crimean War.  She has published numerous books and articles relating to religious and political history, with a book forthcoming on the civilian experience of the Crimean War.

Gaagii Lammers is a jewelry designer who has been creating jewelry for many years. She works primarily with natural stones, semi-precious gems, copper, and leather. Much of the metal that she uses is hand cut, textured by hammering or brushing, and/or given a patina by application of chemicals or heat. Many of her leather pieces are hand painted, distressed, or treated to produce a patina. Her work can be viewed at

Rebecca LaNasa has been a fitness instructor at the Whitney Laboratories at the University of Florida Center in Palm Coast, Florida, for seven years. She is a licensed Fitness Instructor and member of the Zumba Instructor Network; is certified as a Group Fitness Instructor; and is a member of the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America. She holds a CPR Certification through the American Red Cross and has recently completed the AFAA specialty workshops “Golden Hearts Senior Fitness Training” and “Exercise Design for Seniors.” 
Robert R. Maldonado, PhD is a retired military officer and teacher dedicated to helping people discover their innate abilities and their potential to heal themselves and find their true purpose in life. He is the author of The Calling of the Heart: A Journey in Self-Healing describing his spiritual journey as a healer and traveler on 4 continents; Children of Atlantis: Keepers of the Crystal Skull, a metaphysical Indiana Jones style adventure, and Flying with My Higher Self: Awakening to Self-Mastery.  Robert is currently on the faculty of Akamai University as an adjunct professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and works as a writer, artist, healer, and teacher. 
Frank Martin is a native of Alabama who learned French as a teenager from a French war bride living in his home town. Because she was the daughter of a French university professor and had a classical education herself, she insisted that her student pronounce the language correctly. Martin took French literature courses at Vanderbilt University and, throughout his professional life, kept reading French and speaking it when he had the opportunity. After his retirement, he spent summers in Paris, Tours, and Montpellier and, as a result, has learned to speak the language in the informal way of native French speakers.

Mary Gorton McBride received a doctorate in English literature from LSU and was a professor of English/administrator for more than 35 years in Louisiana and Florida. She loved Emily Dickinson's poetry from elementary school, but when she began a serious study of the poems a few years ago, she realized that most of what she had learned about Dickinson’s life and work in graduate courses in the 1960s was outdated by the work of the scholars and critics of the 21st century. This brief seminar will bring the new scholarship to our reading of our greatest American poet.

Born in New Orleans of French grandparents, and growing up bilingual, Jeanine "Dr. Jazz" Normand earned several M.A. degrees, including in both French and English. She also grew up in her famous father's orchestra, the Jack Normand Orchestra, at the Grand Hotel (now the Marriott Grand Hotel) in Point Clear. While teaching in university, she also became ABD in French literature, language, and history, and was awarded the honorary PhD in French. She has lived in France twice and taught French one summer at the Sorbonne in Paris and performed piano concerts there. She has had a concurrent international career as a musician on several instruments, and as a recording artist, bandleader and composer, from classical to blues to rock to jazz.  She is an international business consultant and a Steinway concert jazz pianist now living in Fairhope.  A specialist in Gershwin, Jobim, and women and modern French composers, along with the “Great American Songbook,” her bylines are “Twinkling Glamour Piano” and “Le Hot Jazz & Cool Brazilian.”

Martin Powell has been a Bridge player and teacher for many years. His only requirement for his students is that they are willing to have some fun and are willing to learn. He is teaching Easy Bridge along with Arlene DiPiertro.;
Billie Reinhart, at the age of 17, was drawn to the spiritual, non-competitive, and pain relieving aspects of yoga.  A Hatha certified instructor, Billie has been studying Anusara since 2006, the same year she began teaching yoga. She is certified with Yoga Alliance, ACE and AFAA. Her special interest in therapeutics and anatomy led her to study Thai Yoga Bodywork in 2010. Her style is also influenced by her personal Anusara, Acro-yoga, and partner yoga practice.  When she's not in class, she's sewing, camping, getting ready for her next concert or music festival, or in a lounging lawn chair with her feet in the creek. 

Michael K. Renalds received his undergraduate degree in International Studies from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and an M.A. degree in International Studies from the University of South Carolina.  His academic interests include comparative politics and the politics and international relations of East Asia, particularly those of China and Taiwan.  He is a frequent visitor to Taiwan, where he has lived, worked, and studied Chinese language.  Mr. Renalds is currently an instructor and curriculum developer at the International Language Institute in Washington, D.C.

Tony Rhodes- graduated from Florida State University with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and has done graduate work at the University of Tennessee. He served as a Naval Aviator for 21 years, with tours at Top Gun, CIA, and Air Force Exchange in Europe, and flew four cruises, including a combat tour in 1972 over North Vietnam. After retiring, he served in the Federal Aviation Agency as an Automation and Safety Engineer and as an Air Traffic Controller. Since 2010, he has taught lifelong learning courses at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Gene Sellier is a founder of a computer company that developed hardware and software solutions for small business systems. After selling his computer business, Gene managed the largest independent camera store in St. Louis for almost two years before retiring. He is a photography enthusiast and former ESILL board member.

Jane Sellier is a teaching artist who believes in the freedom and fun art can provide.  Her philosophy is to “have fun, be experimental and share it with others.”  Painting in soft pastels, watercolors, oils and acrylics, she enjoys switching mediums because each one stays new, fresh and exciting.  She continues to take classes and workshops and says, “If I’m not teaching, I’m taking a course.  Art is a never-ending learning process and so much can be learned from other artists.” Jane has won awards that include ribbons, cash prizes and best of show.  Her paintings are in private and corporate collections both in the United States and in Canada.  Her work has been published in The Artist’s Magazine and Artist’s Sketchbook Magazine.  Jane’s paintings can be seen at Eastern Shore Art Center.

Rabbi Steven Silberman: Before he received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Rabbi Steven Silberman received a B.S. degree in psychology from UCLA, pursued rabbinical studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and studied in Jerusalem at the Neve Schechter campus. He has lived with his wife and their four children in Mobile for the past 25 years. Rabbi Silberman values family time and the opportunity of learning and spiritual growth, and he appreciates the significance of sharing special life moments and ordinary time with his synagogue members (Cong. Ahavas Chesed) and members of the local community. He is active in Jewish-Christian Dialogue and five years ago was asked to help start the Muslim/Jewish/Christian Trialogue. He also writes occasional newspaper columns and teaches in various communal settings. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, music, and traveling with his family.

Joan Sulzmann Recently retired from a long career in social work, Joan reports she is finally living her dream. “Entertaining friends and family in my home has been a life-long passion. Through Airbnb, I can now welcome new friends from around the world!   From keeping the flowers growing to serving some pretty good muffins, this transplant from the North loves sharing her Southern home with travelers looking for a quiet, restful retreat

Llewellyn "Lew " Toulmin, Ph.D., was born in Mobile and is an 11th generation Mobilian, with ancestors dating back to the founding of Old Mobile in 1704. He recently worked for three years in-country in the Vanuatu Prime Minister’s Office as a senior advisor to the Chief Information Officer, and has researched Vanuatu since he was 15, when he was enchanted by the music from the movie South Pacific. He has led two Explorers Club Flag Expeditions to outer islands in Vanuatu, and visited many other islands in the archipelago. He recently served as an advisor to the Travel and Discovery Channels’ TV show “Legendary Locations” on the John Frum cargo cult in Vanuatu. Lew has worked in 30 other developing countries on every major continent as a consultant in telecommunications policy and e-government, has traveled to 145 of the 196 countries on Earth, and is the travel-adventure-exploration editor and columnist for The Montgomery Sentinel of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of The Explorers Club. He and his wife Susan Little Toulmin are snowbirds and live in Homestead Village in Fairhope during the winter. His website is, reflecting his 2006 book The Most Traveled Man on Earth, which was about the two men competing for that title, and Lew’s efforts to catch up.

Jere Trigg, a resident of Spanish Fort for 33 years, was born in Mobile and graduated in 1975 from the University of Alabama with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Until his retirement in 2009, he worked for the UOP Molecular Sieve Manufacturing Plant in a number of positions, most recently as the Health, Safety, and Environmental Manager. Trigg became interested in growing African violets when he was given a plant 40 years ago, and he quickly developed an appreciation for their beauty and ease of culture. Since his retirement, he has been experimenting with African Violet hybridization and has produced hundreds of seedlings from his cross pollinations. As a member of the African Violet Society of American and the Baldwin County Master Gardeners, he volunteers for the Master Gardeners Speakers Bureau and has given presentations on African Violets to numerous area garden clubs. His goal when speaking about violets is to create interest in this rewarding hobby and to encourage others to give it a try.

Jan Weiler, while living in Cedar Falls, Iowa, became one of the first woman stockholders in the state. She and her husband discovered Fairhope in 1965 on a golf trip to the Grand Hotel. They lived and traveled aboard their boat, covering 8,000 miles of waterways, but, never forgetting Fairhope, they sold the boat and moved here. (As she says, “Fairhope was founded by Iowans, and here we were 100 years later!”) Fascinated by the area, she formed Landmark Tours, and since 1994 she has taken bus groups in and around Mobile, the Eastern Shore, the Gulf Coast and beyond. Jan first became an ESILL instructor teaching courses on the Mechanics of Investing 25 years ago. We are so happy to have her back to lead us on historic tours!

Vincentine Williams is an accomplished pianist and the teacher of approximately 35 piano students, many of them gifted.   She belongs to six professional organizations and chairs three local music events for students.  Much in demand as a musical adjudicator of student performances, she has studied in France and holds music degrees from Tulane University and the University of Southern Mississippi.  In 2008 she was the recipient of the Alabama Music Teacher of the Year Award.  Since 1982 she has been the organist and choirmaster at Ascension Lutheran Church in Daphne, and as our longest serving ESILL instructor, since 1980, we couldn’t do without her!

John O’Melveny Woods has been writing screenplays, television plays, and books since attending the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in the early 1990s. His first novel, Return to Treasure Island, received numerous awards, including the Silver Medal for book of the year by the Independent Book Publishers Association. A second book, Jesse James' Secret, a blend of biography, history, and fiction, was the basis for  Jesse James' Hidden Treasure, a two-hour special shown on the History Channel that was written and produced by the author.

Christine Zuercher holds a BA in speech communications and worked in the broadcasting industry until she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Her interest in cake decorating and design started over 20 years ago as she began making novelty cakes for her young children.  She enrolled in the Wilton classes and found a passion for making edible art.  Over the years Christine increased her skills by taking many advanced decorating classes from master cake decorators and chefs.  She returned to school and specialized in pastry arts and is a certified Wilton instructor.  Her favorite thing about teaching cake decorating is seeing the excitement on students’ faces when they realize how easily they can personalize desserts for special events and occasions. Making special memories for family and friends is very rewarding. 



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