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.

Jeanette Bornholt, A native of Elberta here in Baldwin County, Jeanette often tells folks she "lives here, works here and plays here". She is in fact a descendant of settlers who claimed vast acres of Baldwin County timber and farmland in the early 1800s, building large homes to accommodate their families and those that worked the land. She has worked with the city of Foley’s Public Library for over 30 years with primary responsibility for the Alabama, Local History and Genealogy Collections, the largest in Baldwin County. The Baldwin County Genealogical Society has honored her with lifetime membership and as Genealogy Librarian. Jeanette has been doing family research for over fifty years, has an avid interest in local history, and enjoys sharing her knowledge in speaking engagements throughout the year. She is an award-winning artist and is carrying on her beekeeper husband’s memory with Bornholt Apiaries honey sales. But her foremost ‘occupation’ is family, their three children, sixteen grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.

John Brown holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and Finance from Florida State University and is a Certified Financial Board Emeritus. In 1986, he founded Brown Financial Advisory, a fee-only financial planning/investment firm located in Fairhope and managed it until he retired in 2010. During his career, he served on local and national professional boards, wrote financial columns for the Fairhope Courier, presented financial/retirement planning seminars for employees of various companies, and taught financial classes for University of South Alabama Non-Credit. Since selling his business in 2010, he has been a volunteer mentor for SCORE the Service Corps of Retired Executives. John is a member of the ESILL Board.

Rick Byrd was born in Pensacola, Florida (his grandfather was a native of Baldwin County). Rick graduated with a B.A. in History from Huntingdon College, an M.A. in History from Vanderbilt University, and an Ed. M. in Education from Harvard University. He taught for 40 years in independent preparatory schools in Tennessee and Georgia. His Master's work was in Borderlands History, specifically the Old Southwest.  His fields of specialization have been U.S. Colonial History, U.S. Middle Period History, and U.S. Economic History. Most recently he has been involved in researching the Battle of Saipan in World War II.

Loran Chavez-With a father in the Air Force, Chavez traveled extensively as a child. The zest for life she acquired with those experiences followed her into adulthood and has been a major influence on her artwork. She is a self-educated artist who works with a limited palette of non-fugitive colors, providing her work a crisp quality. Her style tends toward photorealism and is inspired by the world around her. She is now in her second series of "100 Paintings--100 Days" and maintains a blog about the paintings ( Chavez teaches for the Mobile Museum of Art's Art Blast summer program for children, the Daphne Art Center, Eastern Shore Art Center, Space 301, and the University of South Alabama Continuing Education program. She has run workshops in watercolor and oils/acrylics for groups from Dauphin Island to Ocean Springs, MS. Her work has been in several galleries on the coast, including Cathedral Square Gallery and Fairhope Connections.

Jack Daily grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Mathematics, and began a career in technology, which over the years transplanted him to Huntsville, Miami, Chapel Hill, and Alexandria, Virginia. After retiring in 2006, he and his wife Kriss moved from Alexandria to Culpeper, Virginia, where he focused on fine art photography, became an active member of the Windmore Art Center, and taught GED classes for the Literacy Council. In 2013, Jack and his wife came to Fairhope, where they have attempted to give back to a community that gives so much. He recently retired as board member of the Friends of the Fairhope Library, and he and Kriss work for the Fairhope Film Festival as programmers. Each year, they help select the films to be shown in the four-day Fairhope Film Festival held during the second week of November. The majority of Jack's time is spent on his passion for fine art photography. He is an active member of the Eastern Shore Art Center (with solo shows in 2019 and 2021); a consignment artist in Fairhope’s Hello Gallery; an active member of the Eastern Shore Camera Club; and now an instructor for the Eastern Shore Institute of Lifelong Learning.

Michael Darring was born in Mobile and has recently retired from a career in the oilfields of the Gulf of Mexico. He received a BA in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee and has traveled extensively and read widely. This past year, an interest in the founding of the New England colonies focused his attention on the subject of democracy. This led him to read various books, treatises, and papers on the subject from ancient and modern sources. His course is a way to share his enthusiasm with others who may be equally interested in history and how human society seeks to organize itself for its betterment. .

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.

Carol Furman,  Having lived or vacationed on the Atlantic or Gulf coasts for most of her life, Carol Furman has always been fascinated by the natural world. After a job in Marine Fisheries at Auburn’s Marine Fish Lab in Fairhope brought Carol to Alabama, her focus shifted to birds and she hasn’t looked back. As a member of the Mobile Bay Audubon Society, she shares her love of all things birds through presentations to local organizations, teaching Birding 101 classes and workshops for Birdfest. Carol is a Certified Master Naturalist, an avid kayaker, artist and photographer, and her portfolio reflects her passion for birds and the natural world.

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.

Toby Gurley holds BS and MS degrees in Chemical Engineering from Auburn University. As a registered professional engineer he has 30 plus years of involvement in professional societies   and has taught many technical and management short courses. He is a Bethel Series graduate, as well as graduating from the Academy for Equipping the Saints. He has taken and taught church-based classes for over 40 years. 

Blair Heald has been creating Temari since discovering it in the late 1990s through ESILL. Originally intending to use it in her gifted education classroom, Blair found Temari becoming a full time hobby. She is certified at the advanced level or Koutouka with the Japanese Temari Association and hopes to finish through the Kyoujyu or professor level in the coming years. Blair 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 serves as the ESILL President, as Chair of the Publicity Committee and as Registrar.

Robert Maldonado, Ph.D., is a healer, teacher, and writer dedicated to helping others discover their innate healing abilities and guiding them through life transitions. He is certified in Energy Medicine, Healing Touch, Reiki Master, Brennan Healing Science, Shamanism, Entura Art Therapy, Cayce Meditation and Spiritual Life, and Integral Chinese Qigong and Tai Chi. He is the author of The Calling of the Heart: A Journey in Self-Healing; Children of Atlantis: Keepers of the Crystal Skull; Flying with My Higher Self –Awakening to Self Mastery; and The Impact of the Universal Energies and How to Use Them. Maldonado is an adjunct professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and teaches groups and workshops in art and spiritual healing practices.

Fred Nation, who lives in Daphne, is a field botanist and environmental consultant and is certified in herbicide application. He has documented and photographed the wildflowers and native plants of South Alabama for 30 years. Nation teaches for the Baldwin and Mobile County Master Gardener intern classes; has offered courses for ESILL; conducts regular classes on habitats and ecosystems for the Friends Groups at Weeks Bay Reserve; and has conducted numerous workshops and seminars on native and invasive exotic plants for national and state groups. Currently, he is a member of the Baldwin County Forestry Planning Committee. Nation has nominated or co-nominated more than 20 Alabama State Champion Trees and is the author of a book, Where the Wild Illicium Grows: Historic Plants of the Central Gulf Coast.

Donna Orchard holds a B.A. in Speech, an M.A. in Secondary Education, and an Ed.D in Administration K-12. She worked in public secondary schools for 28 years as an English and writing teacher and as a principal. After retirement, Donna began her writing career and has published numerous essays and memoirs, as well as a children's book. She is a member of the Pensters Writing Group in Fairhope and has facilitated writing groups at the Fairhope Unitarian Fellowship.

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.

Alan Samry is a student of Fairhope history, from the founders to the flowers. He was the go-to person for local history when he worked at the Fairhope Public Library, and he continues to enjoy exploring Fairhope’s past. Part of the gig economy now, Alan is the proprietor of Fairhope by Foot, an educational, affordable, and entertaining walking tour company. He writes for Fairhope Living magazine and is a media center librarian at Coastal Alabama Community College. Alan is the author of Stump the Librarian: A Writer’s Book of Legs and Clay City Tile: Frank Brown, the Company that Built Fairhope. In addition, Alan has been leading creative writing workshops in Baldwin County for over 10 years. He graduated from Spalding University with a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. When not reading, writing, or teaching, he’s riding his bicycle.

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 since 1990. 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 in 2009 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.

Kurt Simons has a B.A. degree in history and sociology, an M.A. degree in human resources management, and an M.Ed. in education. He served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, has professional experience in business, and for 28 years taught advanced placement courses in human geography/anthropology and in U.S. history. He traveled extensively in the Far East while in the military, and a Fulbright Fellowship to China allowed him to travel throughout the country, where he taught an economics class at Hubei University.

Mary Streu is a Fairhope artist who works in watercolors, acrylics, watercolor pencils, ink on salt, and copper repoussé. She majored in art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the Pensacola Art School, and with Scottish painter Aiden Bremmer in Portugal and watercolorist Ed Fenendael. She now participates in classes at the Eastern Shore Art Center. Streu's work hangs in galleries and in private and corporate collections throughout the Midwest and the South and has won numerous awards. Locally, her work can be seen at the Eastern Shore Art Center, the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, and the Foley Performing Arts Center. Mary’s art has always drawn inspiration from nature through her love of gardening and the outdoors. Her interest in floral arranging began during the years she spent in the Green Bay Garden Club in Wisconsin. She liked to pick weeds along the road and dried them to use in flower arrangements, which she began to sell at craft fairs. As demand grew for her arrangements, she began to plant weeds and flowers for drying and moved her business from a studio over her garage to the countryside, into a 150 year old Italianate home that she restored. For over twenty years she owned and operated The Weed Patch, a floral and gift shop in Green Bay, where she won many city awards for beautification and historical preservation. Eventually, she ventured into growing, shipping, and selling fresh flowers. Now in retirement, she loves to make floral arrangements that she donates to charitable causes.

Reata Strickland is a creative director, graphic designer, marketing, and communications specialist with experience in PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, web, iBooks, and photography. She loves all things creative, especially photography. Reata retired from full-time employment from the University of Alabama in 2014. She has taught in the UA Honors Program and conducted workshops in technology. Currently, Reata offers her creative skills to clients, as well as assisting with Discovering Alabama web design and social media. She received a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degree from the College of Human Environmental Sciences in Interactive Design at the University of Alabama.

Allen Todd, an Alabama native, is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. His major was in Secondary Education, with a minor in History, and he has taught at the elementary, junior high, and college levels. For 40 years, he worked in four states for the federal government (NASA, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard) as an information technology specialist. During that time, he walked all of the major battlefields of the Civil War, as well as many of the minor ones. In 2017, Allen retired and moved back to Alabama. His current volunteer work includes teaching reading in a preschool and serving as an election official for the city of Fairhope.

Jere Trigg, a resident of Spanish Fort since 1993, 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.

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!

Diana Yum-Bucher came by her love of fabrics at a very early age, through her mother who was a Home Economics teacher. Later, as a dancer and costumer she developed a strong interest in how textiles and their embellishment can be an art form in themselves. Diana’s desire for expression through clothing and adornment led to a business as a fashion and costume designer in San Francisco, Chicago, and Hawaii. Many of the garments she designed were embellished with beadwork, which in turn became her major focus. She then turned to creating art jewelry and home decor items of silks and beads, exhibiting and selling in shops and galleries, and also as a multi-award winner in juried fine art shows throughout the Southeast. For decades, Diana has shared her fascination with fabrics and beadwork by teaching classes in schools, recreation centers, senior centers, bead retreats, bead societies, and in her own home/studio. Having retired from the art jewelry business, she has returned to the Gulf Coast and is focusing her attention on creating for the enjoyment of it and in on teaching her skills for others to enjoy.

Diane Zills moved to Baldwin County in 2014 from a 150-acre working farm in Tennessee. She has six children whom she has home-educated for the past 26 years. Diane is a social worker serving victims of domestic violence and religious trauma. Her Master's degree is in Health Education and Promotion which she received from the University of Alabama. ROLL TIDE! Diane has fallen in love with the community and culture on the Eastern Shore. In 2021, she received her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certificate from Soul Shine Yoga Studio in Fairhope, a Yoga Alliance certified school. She maintains a daily yoga and meditation practice and enjoys sharing her practice with others.

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