Coursing Through Life
OLLI’s learning opportunities target 50+
Instructor Ed Neumuth leads a class in an OLLI favorite. The birding course will be offered again this spring.
Photo by Robert DesRosiers
“A great way to meet kindred spirits” … “a grassroots, continuous-learning phenomenon” … “the best-kept secret in the Berkshires.”
These comments paint the picture of the OLLI experience. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College is part of a nationwide network that fosters year-round educational opportunities geared primarily—but not exclusively—toward those aged 50-plus.
The 80 college-level, non-credit courses and special events offered each year run the full spectrum of topics: arts, music, literature, history, science, politics, and more. Appealing to people with varied interests is key to the OLLI vision, and each semester’s schedule is thoughtfully planned. This spring’s curriculum is no exception.
Among the 22 courses featured in the eclectic spring lineup are perennial favorites like “Birding in the Berkshires,” “Today’s Headlines,” and “Enriching Your Modern Art Experience” (held at the Frelinghuysen Morris House in Stockbridge). And diverse, new topics just keep coming. A sampling includes “Shakespeare’s Comedies,” “Berkshire Theatre 2016” (sneak previews and behind-the-scenes discussions), “Beyond Photography: Training Your Creative Eye,” and “Our Current Health System Decoded” (led by different doctors each week).
These varied courses will be taught not only at BCC, but also in the classrooms of other OLLI partners like Williams College, The Clark, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, MASS MoCA, and other regional cultural institutions.
Teaching “Shakespeare’s Comedies” during the spring semester, Richard Matturro—like all other instructors—is a volunteer. In addition to teaching, he serves as chair of the literature-curriculum committee. The author of six published novels, Matturro has a PhD in English, specializing in Shakespeare and mythology.
A well-known presence at OLLI, he continues to offer Shakespeare-themed classes because of his students’ high level of engagement. He says that teaching in this venue allows him to do creative things that he cannot do in a standard university setting. For example, during the summer semester, he will present film adaptations of the plays he teaches in his upcoming spring course.
If the extensive course and event offerings are the pulse of the organization, volunteerism provides the heart. OLLI membership totals over 1,000 Berkshire-region residents, with 150 serving as volunteers in positions ranging from teaching to committee involvement to general office-support tasks and more. Only two staff positions are paid, including the one held by executive director Megan Whilden.
“OLLI is fostered by people who want to keep learning and want a role in creating that environment for themselves,” says Whilden. “That’s why I think we have so many volunteers. Our volunteer/educators are so distinguished, it is truly an embarrassment of riches.”
The roster of member/volunteers is like a Who’s Who of the business, science, education, and art worlds. Take Arthur Sherman, for example. A retired engineer with an A-list resume, Sherman says he and his late wife, Mona, were determined to keep their minds active. Discovering OLLI was right on target.
“Besides providing a way to meet like-minded people when we moved from New York to West Stockbridge, OLLI now gives me access to humanities courses I never had time to take when I was pursuing my engineering degree,” says Sherman. An avid attendee of OLLI events, Sherman has also participated in a variety of volunteer positions, including serving on the board of directors. Whilden kiddingly refers to him as “the godfather of OLLI.”
While the Berkshires is the hub of most OLLI events, occasionally there are opportunities to broaden one’s horizon, literally. Last year, a Boston excursion to the JFK Presidential Library and the Edward M. Kennedy Center was just one of the daytrips offered. This year, members are looking forward to a Tuscany adventure, still in the planning stages.
And for all the Berkshire snowbirds who winter on the west coast of Florida, there are cultural events organized by the Berkshire OLLI chapter just for them. This winter, OLLI members are looking forward to a guided tour of the new Asian art wing at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.
Stockbridge residents Alice and Len Schiller, who winter in the Sarasota area, have availed themselves of the Florida events over the past two years. “Besides enjoying the excellence of the programs,” says Alice, “it’s nice to see familiar faces when we are away from home.”
OLLI’s Spring Open House is Tuesday, April 5, 2016 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre lobby in Lenox.
››The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College is a volunteer-led organization offering a multi-faceted curriculum of courses, lectures, and daytrips year-round. There are four semesters, corresponding with the seasons.
››Non-credit courses run once a week for four to six sessions. They are held at both campuses of BCC (Pittsfield and Great Barrington) and at partnering colleges and cultural institutions throughout the Berkshires.
››Annual membership is $50. Within a semester, one course is $45; two or three courses, $90; unlimited courses, $100. Flex pass, $45: pick any 6 sessions from any courses. Scholarships are available.
››Courses are geared toward those aged 50 and over, but open to anyone in the greater Berkshire community. No education levels required.
››Spring semester starts April 11. Catalog available late February. Register by phone or mail using the printable application form online; online registration available soon. No deadline for registration.
1350 West Street,
Pittsfield, MA 01201-5786