OLLI offers classes, socializing, travel to retirees


Camille Studebaker

The phrase “happy wife, happy life,” does not end soon after the wedding bells toll. In fact, well into retirement Philip Malone has found the phrase to be truer than ever. 

After retiring earlier than planned, Malone’s wife was getting nervous about having him around the house all of the time. With a need to satisfy his wife’s wishes and an open mind, Malone decided to attend an OLLI bonus program at The University of Alabama. After enjoying his time there, he decided to sign up for classes – not because his wife wanted him out of the house, but because he wanted to learn. 

OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at The University of Alabama allows Malone to take classes on a variety of subjects. The four-year OLLI member and curriculum committee member often spends his days taking history and technical classes and is currently taking “Science for Nonscientists” and a class about the diversity of the ocean. 

“You walk in, you learn stuff, and you walk away with more knowledge than you walked in with, and it’s just a great experience from that standpoint,” he said. 

Not only has OLLI given Malone a wide variety of classes to take during his retirement, but it has also been a great place for him to meet people and develop friendships with his classmates. He said OLLI keeps him both learning and interested in life. 

“That aspect of having all of these different people that have done so many different things in their lives, and you get to meet them and talk to them and get to become friends, you just get a whole new circle of friends,” he said. 

While the purpose of the program is multifold, OLLI’s primary purpose is to provide members with lifelong learning. To achieve this, it offers organized eight-week classes for three semesters during the year. It is currently in its fall semester, and members attend class once a week for each class series. Classes last an hour and 15 minutes. 

Though some work part-time, most OLLI members are retired. It provides structure for its members, obligating them to attend classes however many times a week they signed up for. 

Instead of retiring from something, Amelia Yessick, seven-year member of OLLI and marketing chair, said one of the keys to a successful retirement is to retire to something. She said many people tell OLLI board members that they always wanted to take a specific class in college, but their degree and career path never allowed for it. OLLI gives them the chance to take that class that did not fit into their college schedule or career path before. 

“Never go to the end of your life and say, ‘I never did it. I never got to do it,” she said. “A lot of times the things that you’ve been wanting to do are right here at OLLI.”

There are over 800 people registered for OLLI at the University, and about 200 to 300 people are in the Bryant Conference Center building each day for classes. Yessick is taking four classes this semester, though the number of classes that a member takes can vary. It is all up to the member to decide his or her schedule. 

All of the instructors are volunteers, many of whom are retired University faculty, some are current faculty members, and some classes feature guest speakers. The classes are intended to be fun, with no homework or tests. 

Yessick said she really enjoys the classes she has taken and is always so impressed with how prepared the instructors are. They put a lot of effort into the classes, and they lead members in the direction to become an expert in the class topic. 

Yessick teaches a class entitled, “Mad About These Movies” for movie buffs, where OLLI members choose movies to watch and discuss during class time. 

“With a little education, you can learn to appreciate your environment so much more than you did before, and now maybe as you have leisure time, you can appreciate it,” Yessick said. 

As retirees, some members have lost friends their age. Making new friends is key, Yessick said. Because of this, OLLI has social events too where it tries to emphasize activities that include meeting and getting to know new people. The extensive seating options in Bryant Conference Center allow for people to strike up a conversation and get to know people better during breaks before, between and after classes. 

“We ask people ‘Why do you like OLLI?’” she said. “And even though everybody loves to learn, and everybody enjoys being on the campus, the number one reason they give us is because they make friends and meet new people.”  

Beyond classroom learning, some members also want to travel, but they do not want to drive anymore or do not have a close companion to travel with. These reasons disappear with OLLI. It has a planning committee that plans reasonably-priced trips for members. Some of these trips are day trips, some are weekend trips, some are two week trips and some are even out of the country. 

OLLI’s annual membership fee is $25, which covers bonus programs and social events. There is also a $50 fee every semester, so the most a member spends in a year’s time is $175, unless they choose to go on trips as well. Trips can range from $30 to $2,000 if it is out of the country. There is also a $10 parking pass for designated parking. 

Yessick said OLLI gives everybody a purpose and something to look forward to. Suicide rates are high among older men who are no longer working, but this program gives them an opportunity to plug in their skills. 

No member has to have to have a college degree; OLLI is open to anyone who wants to learn and meet new people.