Local News

OLLI Celebrates Surviving the Pandemic

On a hot summer day in July I met with Ellie Monroe, President of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute known as OLLI to discuss how they kept the programs going through the pandemic. “It was difficult and frustrating,” said Monroe, “We suddenly couldn’t come on campus. The ceramics class lost so much material, we had to replace the refrigerator because no one cleaned it out and the interior had mold beyond repair. Our computers and other equipment were not being updated regularly and you know electronics get outdated so fast if you don’t keep on it.”

Monroe and Bob Kovacev, Vice President of External Relations told me about the hardships that the pandemic caused OLLI. The team found themselves scrambling to learn how to use and teach Zoom to members who didn’t own or had an aversion to computers. Two of their members, Bob Newcomb and Jim Monroe paid thousands out of their own pockets to help keep the entire program going. They were reimbursed almost two years later. Twelve OLLI members went above and beyond helping each other navigate the pandemic and keep OLLI alive.

“We had 1600 members and then we went down to 750.  Our membership is up to 1050 now as we are able to do more hybrid and in person classes,” said Monroe.

“Jim Monroe, Ellie Monroe, Bob Newcomb, Joyce Ono, Richard McCamann, Tom La Casa, Mark Hammel, Susan Hanna, Rick Hearn, Renee Cabrera, and Bob Riley were key people who developed presentations and workshops to get classes up and running,” said Kovacev.

“We started with 30 classes online and by the end of summer we had 45, it has been gradually increasing,” said Monroe, “We are like a big family.”

Just then Patsy Burns walked over to us. We were introduced and she said, “Oh tell them that this is the greatest program ever. It stimulates your brain and keeps you active. Everyone knows that a stimulated brain keeps you young and that a sedentary life is bad for your health.”

Audience at an OLLI class. Photo by Janice Jeng.

OLLI is having an Open House on Saturday, August 6 from 9am to noon. Located at Cal State Fullerton in the Ruby Gerontology Building on Gymnasium Dr. All are welcome.

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9 replies »

  1. I have enjoyed OLLI at CSUF for 20 plus years, attending classes and even coordinating and teaching some classes in writing. I dance in the OLLI Flash Mob-keeping fit and engaged in life. A marvelous program for seniors

  2. Olli is a wonderful program. The teachers really give their all to make it fun and engaging. It’s made my retirement enjoyable.

  3. OLLI is an amazing, meaningful educational organization. Brilliant, cultured, well educated people volunteer to give of themselves to provide mental stimulation for the enjoyment of others. Of special note: At 88 years of age it’s like being back to the university environment so I can keep learning and thrive in my later years. I absolutely loved the Flash Mob classes and performing as a dancer again. Talk about being engaged and having fun while keeping fit dancing with like-minded others (including great guys like Fritz, Jack and John) who loved the music, knew the moves and expressed themselves to the choreography of Jeanette Reese. That was the most enjoyable class, but there was more: Genealogy seminars, Italian language lessons, classes about buffing up computer skills on my Mac. Line-Dancing with Ellie Monroe as well as opportunities to participate in surveys and studies with young UCF researchers. No report cards, exams or competition and price was right, because I didn’t have to apply for a government guarantied student loan to be back at the university on my fixed income!

  4. At OLLI, you take what would normally be a small, clubby thing like playing poker and turn it into a wild and wonderful tournament of 50 players using strategies they’ve honed in Strategy of Poker. OR take a grim subject like death and turn it into an uplifting conversation about the “big inevitable” in Death Cafe. OR finally learn how to tap not just your toes in Tap-excise. Or at long last learn to play that musical instrument with a bunch of enthusiasts. Or get a customized explanation of the 5 photographs from the James Webb Telescope and how it works. Something for everyone, and everyone with a curious mind is welcome.

  5. I drive 15 miles each way to get to the Snappy Tappers Dance class. Amazing group of friendly and engaging people. I can’t believe how many things you can learn about for such a great price.

  6. My husband and I are alumni of CSUF. We heard about OLLI and knew that when we retired or reached the appropriate age, we would join. He has enjoyed lectures related to history, his specialty. I have enjoyed and participated in the past through genealogy classes. After joining several writing classes, I continue to participate, getting l positive and constructive feedback from classmates. This has helped me to self-publish my books, including a novel about my Great Aunt Evelyn called Stand and Shout Quietly. The best part of being part of OLLI is being with students of a similar age who are still interested in participating in the learning process.

  7. My husband and I joined OLLI four years ago and love it. The OLLI “Blue Book” course catalog is chock-a-block full of a wide range of classes. Some examples are the arts (visual, literary, performing), languages, social sciences, healthy living, science, technology, special interests, and parties. There are too many choices to take all in one semester. Each class is taught by a volunteer who brings their professional, life experiences, and interests to teach others. OLLI provides seniors with mental, physical, and social experiences; the keys to living healthily as we age. We get all of this for a flat, affordable price with no required attendance, homework (with a few exceptions like languages), and no tests! You can drop in whenever a class or event suits your mood and availability. We are so very lucky to have this wonderful program right here in north Orange County!

  8. Thank you, OLLI, with your many talented authors, for teaching us all how to survive tough times through your latest compilation “From Masks to Sculpture – Life During the Covid Pandemic”, now available on Amazon. And thanks to our generous, talented teacher/author/publisher Fredrick Von Coelln for getting our books published. Fullerton really shares its treasures.

    • I remain very excited and grateful for OLLI and especially the wonderful group of volunteer instructors. Without the instructors there would be no OLLI classes. The OLLI administration team are the silent ones who work behind the scenes to keep OLLI functioning as a viable institution on the campus of CSFullerton.

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