“The only thing I have learned for sure is that I have a lot more to learn.” This statement comes from Karen Selby of Nevada about her 20-year participation in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Iowa State University.
OLLI, which started in 1993 as the College for Seniors, is a program of the ISU Alumni Association that brings a variety of interesting courses and lectures to Iowa State University to be enjoyed by residents from Iowa and beyond who are 50 years and older. The program is funded with earnings from the Bernard Osher Foundation Endowment and the Nancy and Richard Degner Alumni Association Endowment, as well as with OLLI membership dues and sponsorships from several area businesses.
Spring classes began this past month for Selby, who is among the 600-plus members of Iowa State’s OLLI program. A member since 1994, Selby has become very involved in OLLI and now serves as the organization’s marketing committee chairman.
“I’ve haven’t skipped a session (of OLLI) since 1994,” Selby said, recalling that she first learned about OLLI from her pastor, whose mother was traveling across the state to attend the classes.
Like many of those who are 50 years old and older, Selby had a desire to continue learning, and that’s what OLLI is all about. She didn’t attend college in her youth, Selby said, but she had always dreamed of becoming an archaeologist. Through OLLI, Selby has now had opportunities to study geology and anthropology, as well as a variety of other subjects she’s interested in, like snowshoeing; French, Dutch and Syrian cooking; digital cameras and the brain. She’s also enjoyed class trips to the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates and the Czech Museum.
As marketing chairman, it’s now Selby’s goal to spread the word to others that OLLI offers a great opportunity to grow in your older years. Whether you attended college or not, if you are at least 50 years old, OLLI is open to you. No past affiliation with Iowa State University is required. A membership fee of $25 a year (which runs from July 1 to June 30) provides you with a number of benefits, including the opportunity to register for a variety of courses that are presently offered in three sessions — fall, winter and spring. Courses can range anywhere from one day to eight weeks, and prices vary from $25 to $70/course, and unlike the typical college courses, OLLI courses are not graded. While there may be suggested reading or activities, there is no required homework.
For Ron Huhn, who attended many years of college and worked in both veterinary and human medicine before retiring to a life of farming north of Nevada, OLLI has been a wonderful way to continue his personal passion for learning. “I’ve been taking part about 10 years now,” Huhn said, and he admits that he often chooses his classes based on the instructors (many of them retired professors, but not all). “Some of the instructors are absolutely phenomenal. I will take a class in whatever they’re teaching.”
Huhn said he is moved by the dedication that OLLI instructors have shown. “Many of the course presenters are emeritus professors, who remain at the top of their respective fields and teach for no pay,” while he said other instructors may not have a teaching background, but have a special skill or talent in one area that they can share. And most are loved dearly by OLLI participants. “I can’t think of many classes at ISU where the instructors got a round of applause at the end of their lectures,” he said.
Huhn has found himself drawn to many of the computer classes, which are often taught by one of his favorite instructors, Sam Wormley. But Huhn never limits himself to one thing. “I have a wide range of interests, whether it’s history, government, science, computers… and OLLI has a wide range of topics to choose from.” Because it has been 30-40 years since he was a student himself, Huhn said taking classes through OLLI has really opened his eyes about how things have changed over the years, and he finds it fascinating to be part of this evolution.
“Your baby boomer generation is coming to retirement and are probably, more than our forefathers, interested in (continuing to learn about) a variety of things,” Huhn said. He loved how one professor pointed out to his OLLI class, “You guys really listen.” And Huhn said that isn’t surprising, because being part of OLLI is about choosing things you want to learn about. But there’s also a social aspect to the classes, as you meet other OLLI students. “You do form some relationships around the subjects you’re interested in,” he said.
Greg Madsen, a retired insurance agent from Nevada, became involved in OLLI a couple years ago when his wife, Carol, purchased him an OLLI membership for his birthday. “It was a great gift,” Madsen said. He enjoyed that one benefit of the OLLI membership is that it allows you to take part in a set of lectures on topics of interest, even without signing up for classes. One of the lectures Madsen took part in right away was given by Pat Brooks, who with his wife Mary, drove a 1949 Buick Woody around the world in 80 days, a 20,000-mile journey.
Madsen has since taken classes, too. He loved one taught by Thomas Beell on the history of movies and movie-making. “We’re signing up for another of his classes this spring on mysteries and musicals,” said Madsen, who often takes classes with his wife.
One class he’s not taking with his wife during this spring session is a shopping class. Madsen jokes that he’s not sure if he should be happy or worried that his wife is taking a class about shopping. Selby said he can probably rest easy, as the course is called “The Invention of Shopping: Consumerism and the First Department Store.” It will focus mostly on the history of shopping and consumerism.
Selby said OLLI is currently working on a goal to increase its membership to 1,000. She hopes to keep spreading the word to everyone she can about the great things that can be enjoyed through OLLI. Many of the courses offered are held at the new ISU Alumni Center on Beach Avenue, where there is plenty of free parking for OLLI members. And for those who can’t make it to Ames for classes, OLLI now offers some of its courses online, too.
If you are interested in learning more about OLLI, or becoming a member, contact Jerilyn Logue, program manager, at 515-294-3192 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.