Learning that lasts a lifetime

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 The phone rang non–stop one day in early August in the office of Billie Lombardo, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. For Lombardo, the ringing wasn't annoying at all. Far from it. It was actually music to her ears.

“We had a big pre-registration for fall. The phone rang off the hook for four hours,” Lombardo said with a smile. “We didn't have any clue we would have this kind of a response.”

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a UNF Division of Continuing Education program for people age 50 and over who are interested in taking courses on a variety of topics ranging from The History of the Opera to Florida Friendly Landscaping.

The Lifelong Learning Institute is funded by a gift, $100,000 a year, with a possible renewal for another two years, from the Bernard Osher Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization that supports an array of educational and cultural programs.

“This was the right opportunity for Jacksonville and UNF to connect the dots. We have a lot of seasoned learners over 50 who want to continue their social and academic experiences,” said Robert Wood, dean of Continuing Education.

The Lifelong Learning Institute began offering courses at UNF in October of last year. The pre-registration Lombardo was so happy about was for the Institute's fall semester, which runs from September to December

Pre-registration was for members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, referred to as OLLIs, who have paid either the $110 per-person or $165 per-couple membership fee. Members get first choice of the 34 courses offered this fall. Three courses are included in the fee.

As of August, there were 400 OLLIs, a number that Lombardo thinks could reach 500 by the summer. “We didn't have any clue we would have this kind of response,” she said. “Last summer we thought we would have 100 members. After our first semester, we had 300.”

Wood said 500 is the “magical number” of members to qualify for a $1 million endowment from the Osher Foundation. Though nothing has been finalized, Wood anticipates receiving the endowment within three years. By that time, he thinks the Learning Institute will have 1,000 members.

Wood said 500 is the “magical number” of members to qualify for a $1 million endowment from the Osher Foundation. Though nothing has been finalized, Wood anticipates receiving the endowment within three years. By that time, he thinks the Learning Institute will have 1,000 members.

“We saw that the lifelong learning program at UNF had the potential to be wildly successful,” said David Blazevich, senior program officer for the Bernard Osher Foundation. “It has outstanding volunteer leadership, excellent staff and a University committed to developing educational opportunities that appeal to seasoned adults. We are thrilled to see the program moving forward so dynamically.”


Osher Lifelong Learning Institute students (from left) Paul Strauss, Jay Marshall, Lynn Strauss and Don Levy take a break during one of the classes.
In addition to The History of the Opera and Florida Friendly Landscaping, other Learning Institute courses include Space: The Never-ending Frontier, Conversational Spanish, Wine 101, Women in the Irish Short Story, Basic Computer Skills, Great Books and The Roaring Twenties. The courses are taught mostly by retired professors and teachers, the majority holding doctoral degrees. They offer their services free of charge. Classes, which average 12–15 students, are scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. five days a week, with several classes meeting simultaneously. Almost of all the classes are on the second floor of the University Center.

For more information about UNF's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, call (904) 620-4200.