Osher Lifelong Learning Institute celebrates 25 years

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - This is a press release from Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).

In early 1991, Sue Pace, Director of Continuing Education, at Southern Miss submitted a formal concept paper to President Aubrey Lucas proposing the formation of an Institution for Learning in Retirement (ILR) that would be directed through Continuing Education. She was aware of the ILR movement around the nation with its community-based program’s and felt that was the route to explore that was local and could be developed within the community, partnering with Southern Miss.

A group of 130 individuals attended an organization meeting in May, 1991, to establish the Institute for Learning in Retirement. Dr. Bill Eure was selected to be Chair of the Organizational/Stetting Committee, and 94 individuals became the charter membership class that year. The first election was held in January of 1992. Warren Dale was elected the first President at that time.

“After retiring to Hattiesburg in 1990, I received a call the following year from retired USM President, Dr. William McCain, asking me to serve on the organizational committee for a program for learning in retirement. The committee met regularly and identified sub-committees to speed up the task. The most important thing he did was to introduce us to Sue Pace, our liaison, who brought guidance and enthusiasm. It has been amazing to follow from creation to the present time the joy, friendships, and learning for fun that OLLI has brought to so many,” Bill Eure, Chair of the Organizational/Steering Committee. “

With this beginning an extraordinary success story unfolded over the next 25 years. ILR was founded on the principles of being member-led, member- governed, and for the most part, member-taught. This framework provided members the opportunity to be productive and to be fully engaged in the process, and that concept continues today.

To accommodate the newly formed ILR, the organization shared the Peck House, a property recently purchased by Southern Miss on Pearl Street, with the University Club. ILR classes and other meetings were sometimes held at various other locations around town, including University Baptist Church, Parkway Heights United Methodist Church, and St. Thomas Catholic Church, as well as on the USM campus.

Enrollment for the first full semester, fall 1991, was 145, with 18 classes and four seminars offered. The most popular topics in the early days were computer science, art, history, health and financial issues.

In March 1993, so that members would no longer have to share computers and computer time with regular University students, ILR established its own computer lab. The lab was established through the generosity of James T. Baird, a Jackson businessman who gave $50,000 for the computer lab. Baird was also a visiting facilitator at ILR and administrator of the Ottilie Schillig Trust,

Membership of ILR grew significantly, creating the need for additional space. A fundraising campaign was authorized with a goal of $750,000. With generous contributions from the Asbury Foundation, Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation and ILR members the goal was reached in 2001. The Asbury Annex was built in 2002, about the same time as The Peck House was designated as permanent home for ILR.

Beginning in the fall of 2005, The Bernard Osher Foundation provided the Institute with $100,000 annually, through 2007. At this point the ILR became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, affectionately called OLLI by its members.

After meeting requirements of the Osher Foundation, OLLI was awarded a $1 million endowment and an additional $50,000 bridge grant to provide support until earnings from the endowment became available.

With this promise of financial security, OLLI could now grow with confidence and cultivate new audiences. In January 2015, OLLI expanded its outreach and implemented a second OLLI on the Southern Miss campus, at Gulf Park in Long Beach, MS.

Field trips, local, regional and international, have been favorites of the OLLI experience. OLLI travelers have explored places and sites in Mississippi and surrounding states and as far as he Caribbean and Panama Canal.

Today as OLLI celebrates a quarter-century, it can boast an enrollment of more than 700 on the two campuses. In the fall of 2016 OLLI will offer 142 courses, 101 seminars and 41 five-week courses, across both campuses. Total enrollment for the previous academic year surpassed 5,000 for the first time.

Current OLLI director Brett Harris remarks: “Celebrating past accomplishments is just as important as planning for the future. That’s why we look back.” As charter member Tom Price says, “We can be proud that the foundation we helped lay has survived through 25 years, due to the efforts of many individuals with a common goal.”

Founding director Sue Pace said: “I am filled with immense joy and gratitude as I contemplate the 25th anniversary of ILR/OLLI. The dream started with a seed planted in my memory by my beloved grandmother who told me to listen carefully to older people because they have so many 'pearls of wisdom’ and stories to share. Since 1991, I have seen members become leaders, visionaries and volunteers work to grow ILR/OLLI to over 700 annual members! Cheers to the next 25 years.”

A special program was held on August 23 to commemorate the occasion of OLLI’s 25th year. Governor Phil Bryant, although unable to attend, proclaimed August 23 as The University of Southern Mississippi’s Lifelong Learning Day in the State of Mississippi and commended USM on this accomplishment.

During the meeting OLLI president Wilbur Chambers, welcomed past, present, and prospective members. OLLI’s own barbershop quartet “Note-able Singers,” provided entertainment for the event. Attending to help OLLI celebrate this milestone was Hattiesburg Mayor, Johnny Dupree, former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, who recognized OLLI’s achievements at its tenth anniversary, and President Emeritus Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas, who was instrumental in the organization’s founding.

Founding director of OLLI, Sue Pace, acquainted the group with the original OLLI vision and growth, and recognize charter members. All charter members received a commemorative 25th Anniversary pin. Current director, Brett Harris, discussed courses and the events for the coming year, and the role fundraising can play in the advancement of OLLI.

A membership enhancement program was also announced featuring the creation of the 25th Silver Anniversary Class. New members may join OLLI and become a member of this special class for a reduced one-year rate of $25 for one and $50 for two. Subsequent year renewals will be at the regular OLLI membership fee. This special offer is available to new members through December.

Individuals who wish to join OLLI in the 25th Silver Anniversary OLLI Class, are invited to a special information event on September 15 at 1:30 p.m. in the OLLI House at 3601 Pearl Street in Hattiesburg. Attendance at this event must confirmed by calling 601-264-2708 or via e-mail to olli@usm.edu, dress is business casual.

Current OLLI Schedules are available by calling 601.264.2780, visit the web site at: www.usm.edu/olli, e-mail at olli@usm.edu or visit the OLLI office at 3601 Pearl St., Hattiesburg, during normal office hours. New members may join at any time.

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