Education at Any Age

With around 1,100 active members, Bradley University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) provides hundreds of educational, volunteer-led opportunities designed by and for adults over 50. For those looking to explore, connect and learn, a $5 quarterly membership can be your entrypoint to a wealth of experiences, from study groups and learning trips to trivia nights and more.

“We don't want to be Peoria’s best kept secret,” said Catherine Lawless, associate director for Continuing Education and Professional Development. “We’re working to change that perception and get the word out about OLLI.”

Funded in part by philanthropist Bernard Osher, Bradley’s OLLI is part of a larger collective of OLLIs around the country. However, some members believe that Bradley’s program is among the best of the bunch.

 “I've talked with people from other cities that have OLLI, but they don't have such a robust curriculum. Ours is really superior,” said Jude Dubin, a local OLLI participant.

As a child, in admittedly different times, her father discouraged her from seeking higher education. But after leveraging her penchant for doing crosswords during her downtime at work into a passing grade on an IBM logic quiz, she was hired to be a computer programmer for the Los Angeles Times. Retiring after a decade at Caterpillar later in life, the long-aspiring creative never stopped seizing learning opportunities. Now enriched by her pursuits in poetry, she cherishes the literature classes and poetry groups offered by OLLI.

“Your body starts wearing out, but you can't let your brain wear out,” Dubin said. “I walk every day, lift weights, ride my stationary bike, and I keep doing puzzles – any kind of word puzzles, number puzzles – because at my age, if you don't use it, you lose it.”

OLLI is also great for building community. “Before, I was alone and really had no friends,” Dubin said. “OLLI was really a life saver for me, because the people are so friendly and accepting.”

That’s a common sentiment among participants. “During COVID, we heard it a lot,” Lawless said. “People told us, ‘You saved my life.’ And we taught nearly 700 people how to Zoom.”

OLLI participants are also offered classes on iPads, cybersecurity and generative AI, which have become favorites along with topics like history and literature.

“I would say the majority of our group is pretty tech savvy,” Lawless said. “I mean, savvy compared to a 20 year old? No. But savvy for someone that's 80? Absolutely.” 

Add with opportunities for travel, it’s clear to see how an OLLI membership really is the whole package. For Roberta Parks, the upcoming OLLI trip to France and England is an opportunity to follow in her parents’ footsteps, both of whom were in the army during WWII.

“I have always enjoyed learning new things,” Parks said. “I am generally a curious person, and OLLI lets me satisfy my curiosity.”

Those looking to connect with OLLI can do so here.

-Jenevieve Rowley-Davis