Senior Learning for Its Own Sake
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Senior Learning for Its Own Sake

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Emory is a continuing education program for “seasoned” adults who enjoy learning just for fun.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Students have to be among the first to register to secure a spot in Tommy Dell’s ‘Origins of Rock & Roll’ classes.
Students have to be among the first to register to secure a spot in Tommy Dell’s ‘Origins of Rock & Roll’ classes.

Imagine living a dream to go back and reprise college by taking courses in a relaxed atmosphere without the concern for writing essays and staying up all night for exams – all for a tiny tuition. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Emory is a continuing education program for “seasoned” adults who enjoy learning just for fun.

According to its website, “At OLLI, the thirst for knowledge never ends, with classes and social programs that nourish the mind, body, and soul. Build friendships with others who live in the spirit of learning and personal growth by choosing from dozens of classes and special interest programs.”

The fees start at $45 per course, but some also nominally charge for materials. Courses are held at the Executive Park campus and there is free parking.

A panoply of course choices include short and long sessions. To name a few of the classes offered: American sign language, Money and War, comedy improv, estate planning, Anton Chekhov and James Joyce, Spanish, The History of Jazz, and The Fading Sparks of European Royalty.

When I audited “A Biopic of Duchess Wallis Simpson,” I observed a disproportionate number of Jewish students and teachers in the coffee station and around the halls. “After all, we are the People of the Book,” explained Milton Crane, instructor and advisory board member since 2005.

Popular instructor Tommy Dell joked, “My wife (also an instructor) talked me into doing this after retirement; and I have enjoyed the response from the students. I usually learn as much from my students as I impart to them. This is the most fun I have had in a long time with my clothes on.”

Instructors do not get compensated, but they can take courses for free.

Get a taste of the stimulation, the socialization, and the intellectualism of some students and instructors on board at OLLI.

Rabbi Ari Sollish teaches as part of Emory’s OLLI program.

The Instructors

Over the past five years, Rabbi Ari Sollish has taught a variety of classes from Jewish mysticism to Medical and Legal Ethics, Judaism Decoded, and the Holocaust. Sollish packs in about 60 students per class, and because of his popularity, students have been known to keep their fingers on the registration opening button or face being waitlisted.  He makes difficult subjects fun by offering “Freestyle Topics-50 Top Questions” or deep soulful topics, “The Afterlife.”  Sollish said, “I see many non-Jews in the class. Muslims, and some Christians have taken all of them. Many friendships have been forged.” His next class is “Communication, Art and Soul,” how to overcome texts and tweets drawn on Jewish wisdom.

Crane, 88, retired executive director of AmericasMart buyer relations, served on the OLLI curriculum committee. He recalled that over the past 14 years, OLLI has expanded from 30 to 65 course choices. “It used to be just Tuesdays and Thursdays; now we have sessions every weekday.  Some people depend on OLLI as one of the main activities of their re-created lives. I consider it my brain exercise. … I see students starting at 50; our average age is 72.” Crane teaches “Meet the Authors,” which will start again in the fall and feature seven Atlanta authors who make one-time appearances.

Private therapist Nancy Weisman is leading her fourth course in “Mindfulness Mediation through Insight.” She has between 20 and 30 students per class and is a devoted OLLI proponent, as her late husband Dr. Evan Weisman was fully engaged. He taught “The History of American Folk Music” and attended many classes. “We are not slanted toward any ethnic group,” she said, “but we do see more Jewish participants since our demographic is so interested in continuing education.”

Husband and Wife Power Team

Instructor Dell teaches a course on the origins of rock ’n’ roll, parts 1 through 5. “This covers from before W.C. Handy in 1903 through psychedelia. The courses are not a history of rock and roll, but a look at the roots of the music and how the blues grew into rhythm and blues and how rockabilly (Elvis Presley) then eased into rock and roll. I use videos from YouTube to show how songs from the 1920s became hits in 1958 and then beyond that.”

Students, bordering on fans, said that Dell shares much of his own “rather spirited” past to bring the topic alive. Dells’ classes are in great demand.

His wife, Dr. Dorothy Fierman Carrillo, is also an instructor. Her father, Frank Fierman, was director of the Atlanta Jewish Community Center during its expansion from Buckhead to Dunwoody. Carrillo has taught courses on Woody Allen, Jane Austen, Tolstoy’s “War And Peace,” and “America’s Singing Sweethearts: Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.” “I do it because it combines subjects about which I am zealous with my love of teaching,” she said.

Popular husband and wife team Dorothy Carrillo and Tom Dell teach fascinating courses at OLLI.

The Students

Pam Cowan, a retired speech pathologist, said OLLI filled a void for her. “It’s enjoyable to ‘learn for the sake of learning’…not about writing a paper or the pressure of taking notes and studying for a test.”

Cowan has been a student for five years and has completed about two courses a quarter. “I have taken most of Rabbi Solish’s classes, plus art appreciation, music appreciation, A Study of the Assassination of JFK, The History of Slavery, The History of Native Americans, The Dreyfus Case [taught by Burt Parks, also Jewish]. I enjoy the camaraderie as there are so many people that I would never have met otherwise.”

OLLI student Marty Walter said, “It’s easy, and most obvious, to consider Tom Dell a rock ‘n’ roll encyclopedia. To those of us in our 60s and 70s, rock ’n’ roll started as we raced home from school to see “American Bandstand.”

“We were willing to skip the stop at the corner candy store or the soda fountain to see how the kids from Philly danced and rated the latest 45s. … ‘It had a good beat, was easy to dance to. …I’ll give it a 92.’

“What Tom Dell brought us was an understanding of the roots and evolution of rock ’n’ roll.  Starting in the cotton fields of the South, those rhythms and melodies brought us the blues, and then into the jazz era. The mass migration from the South to the industrialized North seemed to center on Detroit (Motown), New York and Philadelphia. And, as they say, the rest is history.”

Susan Caller, an elementary school teacher, likes being taught by specialists. “We do the three l’s: listen, learn, and laugh about rock ’n’ roll, the Bible, or where we will hike next. She recently went on a half day OLLI hike with both students and instructors on Pine Mountain, followed by a group lunch.

Other off-campus excursions for OLLI students include azalea viewing at Callaway Gardens, ($85) and a tour of Mercedes-Benz Stadium ($25). Transportation is usually provided to and from Emory. Upcoming trips to Cuba and New York City have been announced.

Milton Crane, 88, has been an advisor and teacher since 2005.

“I like the variety,” Caller said. “Tommy Dell brought different guitars to class and explained each one, Rabbi Ari makes Torah study fun and brings yummy homemade desserts for Jewish holidays, and I met interesting (and very fit) people on the hike.”

Another student, Michael Jenkins, said, “Dell was able, with authority, to take us all back to the early days of slavery and how music was created initially, like the blues, and explain how jazz then rock ’n’ roll originated from this, the blues period. He relayed an amazing story of how modern music became the phenomenon it is today.

I know a lot about music. He knows so much more than me! Apart from all of this, he is a lovely man.”

It’s never too late to teach us old dogs new tricks.

For more information about Emory’s OLLI program, visit www.ece.emory.edu/olli/index.html.

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