An Unofficial History of Lifelong Learning at Florida State University
Lifelong learning at FSU was just a gleam in the eye back in 1991—and that gleam belonged to Susan Lampman, who worked at FSU’s Center for Professional Development. Susan had learned about a national movement aimed at opening the doors of colleges and universities to students of all ages. Excited about the idea, Susan and seven future founding members worked to bring the concept to FSU. They started from scratch—not a penny to support salaries or instructors. But, under the leadership of Mary Pankowski, CPD provided space for classes and audiovisual and supported Susan’s work on the program. The Senior Connection: Academy for Resourceful Retirement was born.
By 1992 there were nine official founding members
And Lena Allen
That spring of 1992, two classes were offered:
Critical Issues in the 1990s
The Middle East Unveiled
By 1993 word had spread about The Senior Connection, and 35 members participated in four classes during Spring and Fall semesters.
Gardens: Their History and Concepts
Religious Expression in Classical Music
Telling Our Stories
Will the Real Richard III Please Collect His Horse?
Ante-bellum Architecture in Georgia
Albert Schweitzer: His Life and Thought
The History of Jazz
As growth continued, members decided to establish a steering committee. Dr. Harry Horwich became the first president of the committee.
By 1994, it was time for a shorter, punchier name– “The Senior Academy.” Membership expanded to about 70, and six classes were offered each semester.
The curriculum included classes with intriguing titles like Medieval Science, Magic and Technology and From Settee to Sofa: The Artistic History of Furniture
Despite this success, changes at the Center for Professional Development brought budget problems. A contribution from the late Don and June Alford provided support and encouraged innovations to attract more members.
By 1998, it was time for a more supportive home for what was now called The Academy at FSU. Susan Lampman moved to the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy and was granted permission to bring the Academy and its 80 members with her. The new Claude Pepper Center, which was constructed and completed in 1997 under the leadership and guidance of Marie Cowart, welcomed the Academy and made the program part of the mission of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Pubic Policy. The organization provided meeting space, office space and support for the director.
This new affiliation clarified the relationship between the Academy and the university. With a formal structure, the first set of bylaws was written and committees were formed, allowing members more involvement in program planning and management.
In 2001 Terry Aaronson was hired as program coordinator, and The Academy began to thrive.
Membership increased to 135. The first lecture series was established, and other activities were added. A book club was up and running, special field trips were on tap, and many new faculty members were recruited.
The Academy received a generous endowment created by the late Ralph Cook, who had been an early and active member, and cared deeply about the sustainability of the organization.
In 2001 The Academy was 10 years old.
By 2002 classes were being offered at the FSU Reservation and other locations, including Westminster Oaks, and field trips—local and regional–became a regular part of The Academy’s offerings. Thanks to Terry, The Academy joined the modern world with its first computerized database.
The 2005-06 photo directory lists 156 members.
The Academy was 15 years old in 2006. Membership continued to grow.
As The Academy continued to flourish, members started looking beyond the program itself. Under the leadership of member President Ramona Bowman, the first scholarship was created in 2008. A student from FSU’s College of Music was the first recipient.
By 2008 Susan Lampman had learned about the Bernard Osher Foundation’s lifelong learning initiative, which provided funding and support for programs like The Academy at FSU. She submitted a request for funding, and a grant for $50,000 was awarded, along with a new name—the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at FSU.
Along with the initial award came a challenge that could lead to a million-dollar endowment: Grow the enrollment from the current 300 members to 500, and meet other Osher requirements to prove the quality of the program. As as members and staff accepted the challenge, OLLI continued to add activities, including Dedman dinners and an anthology of members’ writing.
The work paid off. With the support of two additional $50,000 grants and extraordinary efforts by members and staff, OLLI met the enrollment and other criteria and in 2011 celebrated the award its first million-dollar endowment.
Strong staff leadership has been key to OLLI’s success. After many years with the program, Susan retired as director, and Corey Livingston took the helm. Eighteen months later Debra Herman became director.
OLLI scholarships were established as a continuing initiative. The number of classes offered continued to grow, and classes were offered at more locations throughout the community.
Even as OLLI was celebrating its first million-dollar endowment, Debra became aware that we could become eligible to receive a second million-dollar award, and she quickly brought this to the Board for consideration.
All OLLI had to do was double that 500-member enrollment, prove the organization’s commitment to sustainability through annual fundraising, and build on the quality and quantity of the curriculum and activities! The challenge was accepted and the campaign was on!!
In 2016, just five years later, having more than doubled enrollment and offerings to as many as 90-100 top-quality classes a year, OLLI qualified and received that second million-dollar endowment—proof positive that OLLI at FSU has become one of the elite OLLIs in the nation.
During the years between the two endowment awards, new bylaws were written to respond to the needs of a larger organization. Debra began international travel opportunities starting with the Semester at Sea Enrichment Voyage in 2012 and the OLLI Study Abroad Program in 2013 focusing on FSU campuses around the world. More national and international travel was in the works with the start of the Travel and Friendship Force Clubs.
Activities and projects exploded, thanks to the Inclusivity Committee, Men’s Group, two Book Clubs, Culture and Arts, Field Trips, Writers’ Group, Spanish and French Clubs, Walking Club, and Get Happy with OLLI.
OLLI also became more integrated with FSU and the Tallahassee region. Now, when a member mentions “OLLI” to a friend, they don’t get puzzled looks. Today, OLLI has a solid presence in our community and a strong foundation for the next 25 years!
Members, regardless of where they might have earned academic degrees, consider OLLI at FSU their alma mater for their garnet and golden years.
Thanks to Susan Lampman and Ramona Bowman, who conducted the research that resulted in this brief, unofficial history. Written by Fran Conaway
Presidents of OLLI at FSU and Its Predecessors
2013-14—John Van Gieson