‘Curiosity never retires:’ Program offers lifelong learning
YORK, Pa. (AP) — Rich Santel and his wife, Judy, made preparations for what would happen when he passed away.
Santel wasn’t ill. It was just his expectation that, as the husband, he would die first, and he wanted to ensure his wife was going to be taken care of without him around.
But one week after Santel celebrated his 65th birthday with his family, his wife passed away unexpectedly.
He was six weeks away from retirement.
“I never dreamed I’d be a widower going into retirement,” Santel said.
He felt lost.
One of the things that helped Santel through that grief was OLLI, a program his wife introduced him to before her passing.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, or OLLI, is a program that’s run in conjunction with more than 100 colleges and universities in the United States. Through OLLI, older residents who live where OLLI programs operate can take a variety of courses for fun. OLLI in York County is run through Penn State York, and classes are held on campus.
Some classes last a single session, and others are several sessions or classes, held over many weeks. The classes are inexpensive: $8 per single session for members and $15 apiece for nonmembers.
OLLI is a nonprofit, one of more than 300 participating in Give Local York, a 24-hour online giving spree that benefits nonprofits in York County. This year, the online day of giving is Friday, May 3.
Some of the OLLI programs are very practical and age-appropriate, like one called “Put The Fun In Funeral,” and another called “Medicare 101 - The Basics.”
Others are perhaps less practical — focused on arts and culture. Many of the class instructors aren’t people who have doctorate degrees in the subject matter, but rather a strong interest in or life experience with it.
Santel, for example, teaches about films, particularly those from Hollywood’s studio era, the 1930s and 1940s.
Santel, 72, worked in customer service, purchasing, outside sales and sales management during his professional career, retiring from York Container Company after 37 years.
But he’s always had a passion for films from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
“I probably should have been born around 1915,” Santel said.
He doesn’t consider himself an expert in studio era films, rather he calls himself a “film buff.”
He used to host viewing parties at his home in Springettsbury Township. His wife told him about a neighbor down the street who was involved in the OLLI program. Then Santel got involved with it and started teaching a course about the films he loves so much.
In the OLLI courses, there’s no homework and no exams. All of the coursework is intended to be fun, interesting and informative.
The courses are held in the fall, spring and summer. Some last just one day while others can be spread out over an entire semester.
After one of his OLLI classes, Santel was getting dinner at the salad bar at a grocery store when he bumped into one of the students in his class, Pat McGrath.
McGrath, a widow, said it’s not enjoyable to make dinner for just herself. So she went to get a salad after the OLLI class. Santel asked her whether she thought any students in the class might like to continue the discussion about the films over dinner after their classes finish.
McGrath thought it was a good idea, and now some people in the class get together for dinner afterwards.
McGrath, 74, said OLLI provides the interesting educational experiences and the friendships that many people find during their college years, although that college experience is not one she had herself.
McGrath started taking OLLI courses after she retired from the Penn Laurel Girl Scouts Council following a 20-year career with the organization.
McGrath always had an interest in learning, she said.
“I always loved to read, from the time I could read at 4 or 5 years old,” McGrath said.
But she didn’t get to go to college when she was a young adult.
“My father didn’t believe in higher education for women,” McGrath said.
Her parents were divorced, and her mother couldn’t afford to pay for her to go to school.
“And my father wouldn’t pay for it,” McGrath said.
She met her husband, got married and had a family.
In 1987, she took a full-time job with the Girl Scouts.
“I always wondered what I would do after my retirement,” she said.
She heard about a class through OLLI that was about the Holocaust.
Since then, she’s signed up for all kinds of classes. She also started doing a book club through OLLI, and leading club discussions. She’s been doing that for more than 10 years.
McGrath and Santel said they think more people would take advantage of the OLLI classes if they knew about them. Right now, most people who sign up for a class have heard about the program through word of mouth.
Although the classes are inexpensive, some seniors have very tight budgets. There are scholarships available for people who are interested in the courses but can’t afford them.
People can also give someone an OLLI membership, $50 for the year, as a gift. That allows them to take the courses at the reduced price.
McGrath said she thinks some people might be intimidated to enroll in classes through OLLI because the classes are held at Penn State York. But it’s fun to meet there, she said.
And as an OLLI member, you get a Penn State York library card and you can check out books from the library.
They also take field trips and socialize with one another.
Learning new things isn’t something that ever gets old, McGrath said.
“Curiosity,” she added, “Never retires.”
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com