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Western’s Lifelong Learning Program to be Featured at Area Meetings

By Sue Moore

Marianne Houston

Residents aged 50 and older are invited to attend informational meetings about Western’s Lifelong Learning Program. Marianne Houston, head of the membership committee for the program, and Marcia Miazga, will be at the Schoolcraft library on May 7 at 2 p.m. to talk with their book club and at the Vicksburg District Library on May 14 at 2 p.m. for a presentation.

“We hope to attract lots of people at both libraries, as it’s clear people who frequent these bookshelves, are in search of exactly what OLLI has to offer,” said Houston.

OLLI stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of Western Michigan University (WMU), the latest name for this program which began in 2011.

OLLI, OSHER, ALL, LLA, are each acronyms that WMU has employed in describing its Lifelong Learning program, according to Houston, head of the membership committee where the challenge has been to gain up to 750 members.

Having taught in the Vicksburg School system for nearly 29 years, Houston has become involved with WMU’s volunteer program for people who are 50+ and are looking for a way to keep on learning at every level.

Houston was first invited to work on the curriculum committee when the program was called Lifelong Learning Academy (LLA).

She soon learned that meant being on the advisory committee and thus, becoming the membership chairperson. Needing help with bringing the organization to its full membership potential, she recruited Marcia Miazga from Vicksburg along with five or six Kalamazoo people to help out.

At first, membership was just come as you are and take classes with no exams. There was a cost of $35 or less for the classes.

That first year, one of the volunteer instructors was Garrard Macleod from Vicksburg.

In the second year, the name had to be changed when someone from the Ladies Library Association in Kalamazoo, claimed the 150-year-old rights to the name so it was changed to Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL).

In the third year, with lots of volunteers and interest growing for classes that embrace history, current events, science and technology, environmental, arts, humanities, and health, the board decided to apply for a grant through the OSHER Foundation, based upon the program’s rapid growth and the commitment of WMU to the concept.

OSHER is a nationwide group that was set up to encourage exactly what WMU’s Emeriti Council of retired professors had envisioned. OSHER has funded programs such as this in 117 lifelong learning programs on university and college campuses across the country, with at least one grant recipient in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

Thus, the name was changed to Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Western Michigan University (OLLI at WMU). It’s still all about providing intellectual and cultural stimulation, personal growth, and social engagement for 50+ adults in an informal, lively, learning atmosphere, Houston said.

“Learning is a joy….and learning something new, activates parts of the brain that need waking up, and engages us in new ways,” she said.

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