OLLI’s September 7th fall kick off celebrated our 25 years of lifelong learning. Since many members requested the text of remarks, we provide the outline from our speakers: Dr. Chuck Korte, co-founder of the program; Carol Rahmani, chair of the OLLI Advisory Council; and Dr. Jim Clark, professor emeritus of English at NC State and 25-year instructor in the program.
Chuck Korte’s remarks:
Big picture for OLLI:
* OLLI a reflection of a significant cultural shift in view of retirement years; from “step aside” to “stay involved”.
* older adults healthier, living longer, more financial secure, more wanting to stay active and involved, keep learning, give back to the community
- Local picture:
* we noticed the success and proliferation of learning in retirement programs. esp the one at UNC-Asheville
* we studied our local environment, which looked promising for a learning in retirement program; three pluses:
– a well-educated and growing population of older adults
– rich local educational resources: colleges and universities, state government, RTP
– we did a local survey that showed that there would be strong interest among local older adults in an NCSU learning in retirement program
* we developed the key features for our own program:
– member-led and open-ended
– members as resource (instruction, volunteers, leaders)
– accessible; low fees, volunteer instruction
3.We all have been pioneers in this changed view of the retirement years and should continue to be pioneers
Carol Rahmani’s remarks:
- To Chuck Korte, Co-founder of Encore—Owe him a debt of thanks for being a visionary in 1991.
- Understood retirees of the future would see education as a never-ending quest for knowledge—insatiable appetite for learning—a passion!
- Life-long learning programs were springing up across the nation—Our Encore program was part of a national movement! 500+ lifelong learning programs today.
- In 2000 and 2001, Philanthropist in CA, Bernard Osher, became interested in providing financial support to lifelong learning programs.
- Since then, the Osher Foundation has provided endowments to 119 programs, all known as Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLIs).
- Encore became an OLLI in 2014, and we have received two $million endowments that will help keep our fees affordable for decades to come.
- Our OLLI now has 1500+ members.
- Varied interests, varied backgrounds, but we have in common our passion for learning.
- Increasingly we have come to see that we are a community of learners.
- My personal experience—
- Entering retirement—knew I wanted to do volunteer work; knew I needed intellectual stimulation.
- Joined Encore in 2009; My first course—Great Decisions (Keith Brickman)—Hooked from day 1!
- Was invited to join Program Development Committee. This filled a void that I’d experienced since retirement—collegial relationships—teamwork. Deepened sense of belonging to our learning community.
- Open house—please talk to committee members about how you could volunteer to support OLLI.
- Andy Rooney—60 Minutes—Quote that makes me think of OLLI—“I’ve learned that the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.”
- Members—smart learners
- Instructors—Every class led by a talented, passionate teacher.
- Speaking of smart, talented, dedicated instructor—Dr. Jim Clark
- For all 25 yrs of our program’s history, he has taught.
- Several yrs ago, saw Jim at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a State-Carolina baseball game. Chatted about our mutual love of college sports.
- Apropos that Jim Clark is a baseball fan. After all, for 25 yrs. he has hit home runs every time at bat in the OLLI classroom!
Jim Clark’s remarks:
“If you don’t know where you are going, you should know where you come from.”
The slave girl Sky reiterates this Gullah saying in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2014 novel entitled The Invention of Wings.
Where Encore and more recently OLLI have come from is a very special story, one that did not begin just twenty-five years ago.
In my four-part discussion of why we are here to celebrate, the first part offers a brief history of informal education, the non-credit but invaluable inspiration of wonder and cultivation of curiosity through the ages.
I. Let’s think of this amazing history as if it were a six-session, team taught OLLI course offering entitled “The Joys of Informal Education”
The first session would be devoted Aristotle’s 4th century B.C. Lyceum in Athens. The site of this hallowed place has been excavated and reclaimed in just the last several years. There Aristotle challenged his young students as well as the curious citizens of Greece as he walked about among them. Like many teachers, he walked as he taught.
Session two will be about a New England adaptation of Aristotle’s lyceum begun in 1826 by Josiah Holbrook in and around Boston. This popular intellectual exchange grew to involve some of the most famous Americans of the day, among them Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony. By 1834 over 3,000 lyceums had been formed in the developing United States based on the Holbrook model.
The third session of this OLLI survey of the history of informal or non-credit education should focus on the Civil War era’s creation in 1862 of the land-grant system of higher education for our country. Justin Morrill of Vermont was the US congressman whose name is synonymous with the establishment of this unique national framework that includes the eventual founding of North Carolina State College and NC A&T State College. Chancellor Woodson has volunteered to teach the session devoted to this innovation in informal education.
Meanwhile, as session four will show, informal education in America was also advanced by the Chautauqua movement beginning in 1874 when Lewis Miller and John Vincent, two Ohioans, began a Methodist Camp Meeting in western New York State to inspire and inform Sunday school teachers. A related spirit of inclusive inquiry swept through the nation, especially the old northwest, and until about 1930 small town and city Chautauquas thrived among citizens of various religious faiths and intellectual persuasions. The original Chautauqua is still an annual summer phenomenon today at the site first selected for informal religious enrichment in 1874.
Session five is about a major milestone in land-grant education. To the growing agricultural and mechanical arts interests in formal and informal education was added in 1914 the Smith Level Act, named for two southern congressmen, Hoke Smith and Asbury Lever. Their legislation extended informal education across the far reaches of the American countryside through the Agricultural Extension Service, now known in North Carolina as Cooperative Extension. Initially every rural county in the country became an informal classroom where trained male and female agents extended scientific and practical knowledge to boys and girls as well as to their parents and grandparents. If it was hard to teach old farmers new practices, the children were there to help usher in the new era. You may recall that in our time it has been the young’uns who taught us adults to recycle our plastic, metal, paper and much else.
For the sixth and final session of this proposed OLLI course about informal education, the focus will be on the land-grant domain of NC State University. Here in 1978 this country’s first Humanities Extension Program was established in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences to use county extension offices and media to offer non-credit seminars across the state. By the time Encore, the first stage of OLLI, was founded in 1991, Humanities Extension had already identified a number of NCSU professors with an eager readiness to volunteer for instructional service in McKimmon, myself among them as a director of Humanities Extension. A new informal education theme of that era was “engagement,” a more dynamic concept than “extension,” for from now on the exchange of ideas would be two-way: The teachers would learn from the students while the students learned from the teachers. Lifelong learning and learning in retirement soon engaged citizens in McKimmon as well as statewide, including those men and women still on the job and those already in retirement.
II. Among the leaders of this effort in North Carolina to extend the Humanities across the state was UNC System President William C. Friday. He and NC State Chancellor Joab Thomas saw that funding for the innovative new extension and engagement program became a permanent line in the UNC system budget. Within that decade President Friday himself retired and chose to devote himself to informal education on a regional basis. Passionately he addressed illiteracy, the condition of being unable to read and write sufficiently well to uphold the vital responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society.
President Friday continued in this new line of his life’s educational leadership to employ an old technique. He used index cards to remind himself of topics he wanted to mention to staff members and associates as he met them in the hallway or on the street.
Let me share with you a few such topics. These are not taken from President Friday’s archives but, rather, are typical of his wide and wise social perspective on educational leadership in recent decades
Index card one: The Death of Allen Oliver in 1928: This venerable poultry specialist at State College had taught adults and children how to raise chickens for meat and eggs. When news of his death became public, a woman he had taught as a girl brought to his home here in Raleigh a linen covered pan of dressed but uncooked chicken parts. She said to his widow: “I heard that Mr. Oliver had died. I am sorry. All that I have he taught me to make. I wanted you to have this pan of food as a token of my gratitude and sympathy.” Telling your teacher “Thank you” is good public policy at any stage of life..
Index card two: The Sandy Creek Baptist Church Bus. Up in Franklin County east of Louisburg a blue and white church bus recently carried an ambiguous message on its back door and bumper: “Jesus Said Follow Me. Do not park behind this bus.” President Friday understood that ambiguity is a major reality in our world. Hardly any issues are black or white, all good or all bad. Much of the time our lives are as confused as that message on the church bus.
Index card three: A Two Shoestring day. How many of you have ever broken both shoestrings the same day? It is indeed rare. What would your reaction be if it happened to you? President Friday endured in his long career many days when more than two public shoestrings broke. He led North Carolina onward.
Index card four: The Umbrella Dilemma. As overheard in a western New York parking lot this summer as storm clouds gathered: “If you do not bring the umbrella, you will not need it!” How is that for faith and foolishness? What if the umbrella you did notbring were education, either formal or informal?
Index card five: Remembering to Know, President Friday used his index cards in order to remember what he wanted his associates to think about or take care of. Perhaps he was inspired by North Carolina native Thomas Wolfe who believed that until you write down what you remember, you do not really know it.
III. Thomas Wolfe, whose first novel was Look Homeward, Angel, referred to his eventual success in learning to write as his “line of life.” He grasped written language in first grade, not before then. Like most of us, Wolfe had naturally learned to speak and to read through informal or natural means in his literate family. Some of our neighbors, even today, have never lived in homes that supported natural early childhood development. Illiterate parents or guardians with no books around still abound despite President Friday’s addressing this difficult issue during his retirement. These challenged citizens were left behind. They had no verbal lines of life or only tattered ones.
Since my long association with Encore and OLLI has involved work with a variety of non-fiction life writing and short fiction courses, many of them during my own active retirement, I want to read to you a short piece of my own writing. It is about a dear old semi-literate African American man I knew well before I went to college. He had retired to the rural village where he and I grew up in different generations. The year was 1960. I was clerking in my father’s general store:
One Saturday night closing time was approaching, and Uncle Enoch Davis was still sitting on the slatted bench inside as I filled the drink coolers and swept the floor. No one else was in the store. Thinking something might be wrong, when I finished sweeping near where he sat, I sat down beside him. He placed his left hand on my right knee and told me why he had come home to Vaughan to die.
Mr. Russell, he said, had been a deliveryman for the McPherson Bottling Company in Littleton. One day many years ago in driving near where Uncle Enoch and his family were living and farming, Mr. Russell’s truck hauling 7-Up, NuGrape, and Orange drinks in addition to Pepsi Colas had accidentally struck and killed his only grandson. Eventually Uncle Enoch had come back to Vaughan so he could see and talk to Mr. Russell, the last person who had seen his beloved boy alive. Ending his story, Uncle Enoch let go of my knee and said. “You is my onliest boy now.”
I locked and barricaded the front door of the store and turned out the lights as he and I approached the back door. We went out together. At the top if the hill, he headed toward his house, and I went home to bed. My dog Mitzy had heard me slam the back door of the store and soon appeared out of the dark to walk down the dirt road with me. She was guarding me and the metal moneybox I carried. I valued her and the brave old man very much. I still do
It was brave for Uncle Enoch to do what he did, as an old man to come back and live alone where he had lived as a boy. There he steadily defied the deadly grief of losing his only grandson. Instead he sought the company of the white man who had accidentally run over and killed that beloved boy. And Uncle Enoch somehow found in me, a white boy, someone to love as his own as he approached the end of his tattered life line. I loved him too.
I hope OLLI and its predecessor Encore have been sustaining you through a love of wonder and curious inquiry as you pursue informal education lines of life in your retirement. Here is a final way to think about our joint efforts.
If you had been born in an Asian culture such as Vietnam, you would naturally or informally have learned to speak a tonal language. For instance, a one syllable word like the word meaning table could become the word for friend with a different accent or tone. And this same basic word becomes the word for sell or sold with yet another tonal emphasis.The dynamic, base word is spelled b,a,n.
Experts, such as the faculty in Design at Stanford University tell us that Asian students who naturally mastered tonal languages beginning in infancy are more creative, imaginative, as well as more successful professional designers and artists than their students who learned non-tonal languages such as English.
I suggest that our active participation in OLLI, whether as a student or as a volunteer teacher, is a good way to develop at this end of our lives the stimulating mental agility that learning mere, non-tonal English did not provide us at the beginning of our informal education in early childhood.
I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that I cherish this “second childhood” opportunity. Not knowing where we are going, we do know where we have been inventing our wings.
Jim Clark, September 7, 2016