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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Nancy Milford has a passion for Alabama flora and fauna, which led her to study biology at the University of South Alabama and later pursue a career as an environmental engineer and city planner. She is currently enrolled in Coastal Alabama Community College pursuing two degrees, one in art and one in pastry. She is a member of the Mobile Arts Council and the American Society of Botanical Artists. Nancy spends her spare time in nature, exploring her creative side by painting and drawing wildlife and keeping journals about the world that surrounds her.

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.

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.” .

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.

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.

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.

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.

Irene Wegner has been telling stories for over 39 years and has used education grants to share stories and teach storytelling in schools throughout the mid-western rural areas of the U.S. Now a happy resident of Fairhope, she would like to share tips and techniques so that others can continue this age-old tradition.

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.

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