Instructor Bios

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Tamlin Albritten is an Expressive Art Specialist who creates art curriculums and creative workshops for specific interests. She has been an art teacher for almost 40 years: 20 years in schools, 10 years in rehab settings, and 10 more years out of her home studios and art camps. Tamlin's expertise is to teach a lesson beyond the lesson. For example, in her Alchemy Ink art class, she is focuses on helping students let go and relax into the process. That is not always easy, but students will be led to discover more about themselves while creating their colorful, unique tiles. .

Dianne Bernasconi, known in the community as Ms. B., has had a lifelong love for sewing and fashion and enjoys teaching and sharing that love with others. She taught Fashion Design and Family Consumer Science (Home Economics) at Fairhope High School and Spanish Fort High School and won Alabama Family Consumer Science Teacher of the Year in 2015. Dianne has studied with and is a mentee of Vogue designer Sandra Betzina; she studied in Paris in 2018 and in Florence in 2019. In 2020, she will be on a fabric and texture safari in Morocco. She is a certified Home Sewing Association Instructor and Window Covering Association of America Designer.

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.  John is a member of the ESILL Board.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mahala Church,  editor, author, and writing instructor with degrees in fine arts and nursing, writes and edits for an international group of clients both for- and not-for-profit, creating web and blog posts, newsletters, book launches, book reviews, manuscript evaluation, manuals, bylaws, handbooks, and marketing materials. A ghostwriter and editor for both fiction and non-fiction manuscripts, she works with a diverse group of authors, and teaches creative writing and blogging through her Barefoot Writing Academy. A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2008, Church is a published author of articles, short stories, and personal essays. Editorial credits include numerous anthologies, novels, and workshop contest entries. A founding board member of the Emerald Coast Writers, she co-founded the Mobile Writers Guild and is a member of the Pensters Writing Group. She believes that it is vital for writers to commiserate and build viable networks to enable them to succeed. For more information on Church, see;;;

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.

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Maggie Cunningham has a degree in music education from the University of Minnesota with a double major in performance.  After attending The Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Montreux, Switzerland, she did her graduate studies in music performance at The University of Boston.  An avid opera enthusiast, Maggie has written a book entitled Opera: From Affliction to Addiction, which will provide the basis for her lectures.

Jerry Darring is a native of Mobile. He is a retired after teaching many years at McGill-Toolen High School and Spring Hill College. He studied the Holocaust in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He is co-director of the Gulf Coast Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education, and a member of the board of the Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue. He has authored four books on the Holocaust. 

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 offering an Advanced Birding Workshop during 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.

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.  Wendy also teaches knitting courses for ESILL. 

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. 

John Helmstadter has been an avid sailor since he was an eighth grader. Through the years, he has owned several types of small sailboats (his favorite is his current one, a Capri 22) and has been active in yacht clubs in Chicago, Texas, Florida, and Georgia. In 2008, he retired from a career in manufacturing management, moved to Fairhope, and joined the Fairhope Yacht Club. John is an active racer and served for over ten years as head of the club's Adult Sailing Program. He was also scorekeeper for the Sunday Fun Races for ten years.

Art Holder has a B.A. in Education and a Master’s in Psychology from third rate institutions.  He has been a laborer, paperboy, gas station attendant (back when they actually washed your windshield), Peace Corps volunteer and a member of the FBI.  Art is member of the ESILL Board and serves on the Publicity Committee.  

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.

Dr. Harry Miller was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, and holds a B.A. degree from Wesleyan University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University. He has lived and explored in Taiwan, China, and Japan and, since 2002, has taught Asian history at the University of South Alabama. Dr. Miller is the author or translator of three books on Chinese history: State Versus Gentry in Late Ming Dynasty China, 1572-1644 (2008); State Versus Gentry in Early Qing Dynasty China, 1644-1699 (2013); and The Gongyang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals: A Full Translation (2015). He branched into historical fiction in 2018 with the publication of Southern Rain, a novel of seventeenth-century China. He and his family live in Mobile.

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.

Richard A. "Ran" Nisbett earned graduate degrees in anthropology, community ecology, and public health. Over a 30-year career, he was a faculty member at several universities in the U.S. and served in his final academic appointment as Vice President for Research at Tubman University in Liberia, West Africa. He has lived and worked extensively in several tropical countries in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia conducting research on infectious diseases and community development. Working with native peoples in areas of high biological diversity, he has examined how different faith traditions around the world frame the relationship between humans and nature. Ran is now retired to Fairhope, where he is completing a manuscript entitled “All Creatures Here Below: Communities of Creation, Ecospirituality, and Whole Earth healing.” .

Normand was born in New Orleans, with French heritage, and grew up playing in her father's orchestra, the Jack Normand Orchestra, at the Grand Hotel Resort in Point Clear, Al. She has degrees in both French and business and has lived and taught in France, but Jeanine is known primarily as a musician--one who once performed with Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald at the Nice Jazz Festival. She has had an international career as a multi-instrumental recording artist, bandleader, arranger, and composer, from classical to blues to rock to jazz. Jeanine now lives in Fairhope and performs locally as a concert jazz pianist, specializing in the Great American Songbook and in Gershwin, Jobim, and modern French composers. Her bylines are "Twinkling Glamour Piano" and "Le Hot Jazz and Cool Brazilian."

Lynne Parker is a retired interior designer who moved to this area in 2017. Although she learned to play bridge from her parents and played some during college, it was not until 2004 that she began to take the game seriously. She is now a Silver Life Master, a certified director, and a certified teacher of bridge. Lynne plays at the Eastern Shore Duplicate Bridge Club at the Nix Center, as well as directs, teaches, and chairs the club's education program. She loves bridge for its unique qualities that keep one mentally challenged and socially active..
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. 

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.

Manuela Ruggiero was born and raised in Naples, in the south of Italy. She studied Italian literature, art, and design and worked for many years as designer before moving to the United States in 2014. Currently, she is a full-time mother of a young son, teaching him Italian words daily and keeping her Italian traditions alive for him. She enjoys meeting people from different cultures, and is looking forward to teaching Italian to adult beginners.

Alan Samry, author of Stump the Librarian: A Writer’s Book of Legs, fell in love with Fairhope the first time he visited in 2003. Two years later, when he and his wife Susan moved to Fairhope from Cape Cod, he wrote for the Courier when it was still located on Fairhope Avenue. He was smitten by Fairhope’s unique past while volunteering at the Fairhope Historical Museum when it was located in the Bell Building on the former Organic School campus. Although the museum directorship didn’t suit him, Alan’s love for sharing Fairhope history and promoting the power of public libraries continues. Alan is a writer, a media center librarian at Coastal Alabama Community College, a creative writing instructor at the Eastern Shore Art Center, and an independent scholar. When not reading, writing, or teaching, he’s riding his bicycle.

Richard H. Schmidt is a retired Episcopal priest, author, and editor. His seventh book on spirituality and Christian thought will be published in Fall 2019. Schmidt is also a journalist and former columnist for Gulf Coast Newspapers and other publications. He has served parishes in West Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. From 1990 to 2000, he was rector of St. Paul's, Episcopal Church in Daphne. .

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.

Chip Smith -Although Chip Smith is from an artistic family, it was not until he saw a wood carving demonstration in 1997 that he became hooked on art. After initially carving on his own, he took the North Alabama Woodcarvers Association (NAWA) Beginners Course. Since then, he has studied wood carving and sculpting under several well-known American artists, as well as studying in many western European countries. Smith is fascinated with faces and specializes in caricatures of golfers, ballplayers, etc. He has also carved freshwater fish and birds, using wood carving, wood burning, and airbrush painting techniques. His work is on display in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee and also in the German cities of Koblenz, Munich, and Merring. After 25 years vacationing in Fairhope, Smith and his wife Kay retired here recently. He tries to develop new carving pieces as often as possible and is now collaborating with an artist in wood, who builds custom doors that incorporate his carvings.

Susan Stein grew up in Atmore, Alabama, and holds a degree from the University of South Alabama. She began working for the Grand Hotel in 1986 as assistant to the Director of Food and Beverage; in 1995, she became the General Manager's assistant, a position she still holds; and in 2018, she also became the Historian for the hotel. Through the years, Susan has acquired many stories about the Grand, which she enjoys recounting on tours and talks for various groups and in orientation sessions for new employees. She has also shared her historical information on the Beach TV network and with local historians and authors. Recently, she contributed her knowledge to an article in Mobile Bay magazine about Project Ivory Soap, concerning the time that The Grand Hotel served as a training facility during World War II. Susan and her husband live in Fairhope..

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.

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!”)  Jan first became an ESILL instructor teaching courses on the Mechanics of Investing.  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. We are so happy to have her back to lead us on historic tours!

Maria Whatley, who moved to Fairhope in 2010 with her husband and two children, is a native Spanish speaker from Loja, Ecuador. She holds a B.A. degree in Linguistics from the Central University of Ecuador and an M.A. degree in Spanish Literature from the University of South Carolina. Maria has taught basic, intermediate, and advanced Spanish, as well as literature courses, at Samford University, Montgomery College, and the University of South Carolina.

Cyndie Wilkins, a “Certified Cajun” from Louisiana, is a retired family and consumer sciences teacher (previously known as home economics) who taught at Fairhope Middle School. She is also a cookbook author, a certified Cottage Food provider, a part-time employee at Talbots in the Eastern Shore Center, and a striving artist. In addition, Cyndie is an accomplished unicyclist, noted for incorporating unicycle riding in her school's physical education curriculum.

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!

Dawn Wilson graduated college with degrees in Visual Design and Illustration and began her career designing for local and national businesses. Opening her own company, it was through her client, Electronics Boutique (aka Gamestop), that connections were made in the sports industry. This enabled her to create marketing campaigns for professional sports teams, individual athletes and their foundations. Her designs have been featured in multiple sports venues and in prestigious programs, including the Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL Winter Classic, the MLB and NBA All-Star games, and the1996 MLB World Series. Dawn is a firm believer that everyone is an artist and should be given the opportunity to prove so. While up north, she taught both digital and web design, as well as fine art courses at local universities and colleges. Moving to the Eastern Shore in 2017, she became aware of the missing art curriculum at the Intermediate and Middle School levels, and the lack of affordable lessons and classes for all. She subsequently opened an art studio, offering both traditional and digital classes for artists of all levels.

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.

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