Merlene Davis: Lovers of learning will find opportunities at OLLI

Herald-Leader columnistDecember 30, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO

    Open house and registration for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of Kentucky

    When: 1-3:30 p.m. Jan. 15; snow date: Jan. 17.

    Where: Tates Creek Christian Church, 3150 Tates Creek Rd.

    Information: (859) 257-2656.

Sarah Hall and Bernadette Salone think that if more people knew about OLLI, they would come. And when they come, they would experience a shared love of learning from the perspective of others.

OLLI — the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Kentucky — is an enrichment program for people 50 and older, with classes that meet at various accessible locations. Subjects range from fly casting to history, yoga to literature, painting to culinary arts to swimming.

Have you always wanted to learn acting techniques, be in a chorus or take great digital photographs? OLLI is the place. Do you want to learn sign language or to speak Chinese? Sign up for OLLI.

OLLI is the learning-for-pleasure aspect of the former Donovan Scholars Program, now known as Donovan Fellows. Donovan, however, is open to those 65 and older.

Michael Smith, executive director of OLLI, said the Donovan program began in 1964 as a way for senior citizens to occupy vacant seats in classes at UK. Later, enrichment classes were added that seniors enjoyed but didn't take for academic credit.

In 2006, he said, 700 seniors were taking the enrichment classes, while 100 were academic scholars.

That's the year the Bernard Osher Foundation asked whether the program wanted money for its enrichment program, the only catch being a name change. That's how OLLI began.

Osher wanted similar enrichment programs in every state, and he has accomplished that. There are 116 programs in the United States, and the one at UK has satellite programs in Somerset and Morehead.

"We now have 1,300 in enrichment and 100 fellows," Smith said. "We were one of the oldest programs in the country when they contacted us."

While that is all well and good, Hall and Salone think OLLI needs more diversity. They want participants to enjoy learning as well as appreciate others' viewpoints.

That can happen only with multiculturalism.

"My goal is to try to promote it more around the African-American community," said Hall, 59, a retired attorney for the state. "I don't think we have near enough persons in the African-American community as members or participants. I feel strongly about that."

Most people learn about OLLI through word-of-mouth from friends and family. That limits the number and kinds of people who could participate.

Salone learned about OLLI before she retired as a middle school teacher last year, but she couldn't join because of her work schedule. Her husband joined first, taking classes in watercolor painting, Spanish, history and line dancing.

"We always are learning no matter how old we get," said Salone, 61. "I'm not a bookworm per se now; I learn for pleasure. So instead of having my head in a book to learn something to teach, I am learning something that I enjoy."

Hall emphasizes that there are generally no tests and no homework. If what you'd like to learn about is not in the program's class catalog, talk with them at the upcoming open house. Something might be arranged.

As with other courses at UK, classes are first-come, first-served. Registration is $25, and most classes are $15.

Smith said there are ongoing discussions to attract more minorities.

"By and large, the program was designed for people comfortable with post-secondary education," he said. "Although more and more African-Americans are earning post-secondary degrees, some often have never been made to feel comfortable around those with post-secondary educations. I would love to have us do well at that."

So, why should anyone take part in OLLI?

"What I like about this program is that we do not have to tell people why they should do it," Smith said. "Many have maintained a love of learning throughout their lifetime. To them, it keeps them alive and alert, and it is satisfying in a deep way to learn and be around others who love learning."

At that point in our lives, he said, "Learning is not a hurdle; it is a lifestyle."

On Jan. 15, OLLI is hosting an open house. Salone said a Spanish interpreter will be on hand. Hall said instructors will be available to discuss courses, and there will be information booths for other questions. There also will be refreshments and door prizes.

Finally we all will be able to satisfy our squashed desires to learn. I will get to learn to paint and quiet the laughter of my family years ago when I tried to do a mural on my infant son's wall.

There will be no peer pressure. I might become the next Grandma Moses.

Hall said time will pass anyway; we might as well put that time to the best possible use.

That's what Hall and Salone are doing. Let's join them.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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