Written by Ellen C. Boone, PhD, Co-facilitator, OLLI Memoir Class
Last week, the director of our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute handed me a paper that began with the sentence, “May is Older Americans Month and the theme this year is Connect, Create, Contribute.” It went on to say that OLLI students are invited by the Institute for Public Health at WUSTL to write a post for their blog. As I read that first sentence, I had a vague sense of dis-ease. Not disease, dis-ease. (A world of difference!) Then I realized that my discomfort was a reaction to being exhorted to Connect, Create & Contribute. A much more apt phrase for the older adults who I know would be Connecting! Creating! Contributing! It’s what’s happening! It’s what we do!
Truth be told, the teachers, facilitators and students at our Osher LLI by and large are semi-retired or retired professionals who lead active lives. In the three years I have been participating, my cohorts have consisted of physicians, judges, many lawyers, some professors, an architect, an archaeologist, a biochemist, teachers and nurses. We continue to teach and learn for the sheer love of learning. Actually, I think of the initials “LLI” as referring to our being Lovers of Learning and Involvement! When not at our Osher LLI, we are guiding or mentoring or tutoring not only our families but people in our communities as well – either in paid positions or as volunteers.
Other older adults I know outside of our program are running food pantries or volunteering in hospitals. They’re the mainstay of literacy programs. Churches and synagogues could not endure without these dedicated efforts. Many of my neighbors have already passed their 70th birthday. Of the older neighbors within one or two houses from me, two are attorneys, one a professor of law, one manages others’ finances, and one writes books on religious ethics.
How would our society manage without all those grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, as well as those who play pivotal roles in their grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s lives? And think of all those older adults who are caregivers to their infirmed parents or spouses or to their ill adult children. There is abundant evidence that many of us older adults are already connecting, creating and contributing! What is missing, perhaps, is recognition in the form of public awareness for the vital roles that we play in holding our society together. Then there is the abundance of political leaders, community leaders, statesmen and women, and philanthropists who are clearly older adults.
Now that the national Osher Foundation has begun to support our lifelong learning program, I decided that it was time to become acquainted with Mrs. Osher. I did some research on line and learned that it is Barbra Osher who is Chairman of the Board of the Osher Foundation. Originally from Sweden, she has had many career achievements, including owning and publishing a Swedish-American newspaper in the U.S. She is an avid reader in six languages and an enthusiastic skier.
One of the four program areas that the Osher Foundation supports is “lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults.” We are not bland, we are seasoned! There are 123 of these programs across the U.S. Next month, Mrs. Osher, the Chairman of the Board, turns 79. Rather than exhorting her to Connect, Create and Contribute, let’s celebrate her for her many contributions to our world. Happy birthday, Mrs. Osher, and thank you!