OLLI keeps people learning and growing for life

Participants ride a pontoon boat on Blak Moshannon Lake in a session by Park Ranger Michelle McCloskey for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State.
Participants ride a pontoon boat on Blak Moshannon Lake in a session by Park Ranger Michelle McCloskey for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State. Photo provided

The tables at the Autoport were filled with laughing and chatter.

They talked about barbecue, about this class and that lecture, about things that were coming up and things that happened years before.

That’s how things go when the OLLI crew gets together.

It wasn’t always the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Bobby Maelhorn will tell you that when it started, it was Community Activities for Lifelong Learning. She was one of the members back then and remembers when the Osher National Resource Network gave them the influx of cash that helped turn the group into the Penn State-affiliated organization it is today.

“We started it because we all knew something and thought it would be a good idea to spread some of that around,” she said.

At its heart, that is what OLLI has always been about: taking what you know and sharing it with others.

In the current course catalog, there are opportunities to learn to play the hammered dulcimer, explore the works of Andy Warhol, pick up the fiddle, toss around a bocce ball, or design a spring garden.

Some classes are more academic, like an explanation of radical Islam or a journey through American immigration. Others are more practical, with people learning how to avoid investment fraud, play the stock market and navigate the legal system.

“It still remains a volunteer organization,” said Wayne Baggett, who sometimes teaches classes and sometimes takes them.

That is how it is with most of the teachers. One day, you have Centre County prothonotary Deb Immel walking you through the workings of her office. The next, emeritus professor of environmental engineering Brian Dempsey is leading you through the ups and downs of the Marcellus Shale. Instructors include retired professionals, enthusiastic hobbyists and local business owners, all of whom are giving their time and sharing their knowledge.

It can also be a great way of connecting with others. Barbara Sarra said her participation is as much about having social interaction as it is about education.

You can see that in some of the offerings. Many of the most popular offerings are cooking classes. Participants have learned about baking bread, decorating cakes, making pierogies from scratch, and exploring new cuisines. Baggett said those classes have a tendency to fill up fast.

Then there is the monthly lunch club, another “lunch bunch” that travels outside the Centre Region for meals, the supper group, a separate dinner for singles, a book club, a writer’s group, a hiking group and more. If people can get together and have a good time, OLLI probably finds a way for them to do it, including taking bus trips to museums and the theater. Sometimes they even travel farther afield. In 2014, an OLLI group went all the way to Ireland, timed to coincide with the Croke Park Classic that pitted the Nittany Lions against the University of Central Florida.

It costs $50 to join OLLI, with the price of classes averaging around $10, but that can change depending on the program. Trial memberships are available for one term. Not 50 or over? Not a problem. While many of OLLI’s participants are seniors, classes are open to anyone over 18. Visit http://olli.centreconnect.org to explore the offerings.

“It’s just a lot of people who want to give back, want to learn, want to have fun,” said Baggett. “It’s a really wonderful group.”