California State University, Long Beach
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OLLI Celebrates 20 Years

Published: October 17, 2016

When the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at CSULB officially celebrates its 20th anniversary on Oct. 29, it will mark a highly successful two-decade long collaboration between it, the community and the university.

“In its 20 years on campus, OLLI has become increasingly integrated into the university community,” said Barbara White, a former faculty member in the School of Nursing, who serves as the executive director of OLLI at CSULB. “Members donate time, talent and treasure to a variety of areas throughout the campus. OLLI on campus brings the town to the gown in ways that enrich both.”

Bill Fitzpatrick, a long-time member of OLLI, who has been the president of the organization at CSULB since October, agrees.

“We certainly see ourselves as part of the university and I see us further cementing that and becoming an even more integral part of the campus,” he said. “I think it’s good for our members to feel like they are a part of the university.”

Twenty years ago when it all began, OLLI wasn’t called OLLI. It was called Senior University and meant for individuals 50 and over who had a desire for continued learning. Its main champion was then-Health and Human Services Dean Donald Lauda, who put support behind it simply because he thought it would be good for the community. He felt a university’s mission is to educate and accommodate all individuals, not just those of traditional college age.

Roughly 10 years ago, Senior University affiliated itself with the Osher Foundation, supported by successful businessman and philanthropist Bernard Osher. The foundation has a far reach, supporting post-secondary scholarships, select integrative medicine programs, arts and educational organizations, and lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults.

CSULB is one of 119 colleges and universities nationwide—including Hawaii and Alaska—which have an OLLI, each providing a distinctive array of ever-changing non-credit courses and activities specifically developed for adults aged 50 or older who are interested in learning for the joy of learning.

OLLI support came in the way of a $1 million endowment, the money used to support the organization’s activities. A second like gift was recently received.

“After that first endowment 10 years ago, we did quite well and demonstrated our ability to raise money and be self-sufficient,” said Fitzpatrick. “As recognition, we recently received a second $1 million endowment from the Osher Foundation.”

Those contributions, in large part, allow OLLI at CSULB to keep its fees low, which in turn makes learning accessible to everyone, regardless of one’s income level. The annual membership fee has been $40 for a decade with a minimal $10 charge for eight-week classes. Computer classes are slightly more to support the 12-seat, state-of-the-art lab.

When OLLI began in 1996, it had about 50 members. Within a year, membership was up to 450. Today OLLI is more than 1,700 strong.

Somewhat unique to OLLI at CSULB is that it is mostly a volunteer-run organization. Along with White, there are two paid office employees.

“Everything else we do is with volunteers. All the instructors are volunteers. Our motto as far as instructors is ‘Teach Your Passion,’” said Fitzpatrick, who himself teaches Irish history, Irish culture and Irish film. “A lot of our instructors come from our membership as well and we have people from the university who generously volunteer their time to teach a class.”

udents in one of the original OLLI computer labs in the 1990s.
Students in one of the original OLLI computer labs in the 1990s.

Currently, membership is 4.5 percent ages 50-59, 37 percent ages 60-69, 46 percent ages 70-79, 11.5 percent ages 80-89 and 1 percent over the age of 90, a reminder that it’s never too late to learn.

Individuals join OLLI because they are looking for something different and they return, with more than 35 percent of the members having been active for five or more years.

“They are looking to stay active and stay involved and OLLI gives them purpose and gives them a chance to develop friendships. It’s a great way to learn and socialize and OLLI offers a wide variety of things, academic and activity classes,” said Fitzpatrick.

A currently sampling of class offerings includes Children in Juvenile Dependency, Contrasting Decades, Guided Autobiography, Passage Mediation, Plants of the South Bay and Chinese Language and Culture. Short Stories, L.A. Opera, Beginning Watercolor Painting and Financial Rules of the Road. For those looking to improve their health and fitness, OLLI offers activities such as Tai Chi, Longevity Stick, Yoga and Qigong.

Classes are held a four sites—CSULB, OLLI Pine Avenue, OLLI Leisure World in Seal Beach and the Alpert Jewish Community Center.

Computer classes are always popular with the over-50 crowd, but things in that area have changed over the past 20 years, according to Fitzpatrick.

“The most popular computer class used to be showing individuals what to do with their first PC, how to turn it on, etc.,” he said. “Now our most popular computer classes are teaching people how to use their iPad or iPhone, learning about apps and social media. We have people who are a lot more computer and tech savvy so we see ourselves trying to keep up to date in that regard and we want to keep our classrooms up to date from a technical side.”