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College Seniors: OLLI at CSUMB offers education for older students

After a career in the Army, and a second one spent in the mining industry in Peru, Dick Guthrie of Pebble Beach was looking for ways to satisfy his curiosity about, well, almost everything.

He heard about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute from someone he knew and discovered that for a $149 annual fee, he could participate in a variety of programs for a single price.

Guthrie signed up, and is now in his second year.

“I have a wide range of interests, and OLLI satisfies them,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone in the area.” This year, he’s taking writing classes and one in archaeology.

TO GET INVOLVED: An annual OLLI membership fee of $149 covers up to six classes. Become a member by going online at CSUMB.EDU/olli. The site has course and enrollment information. Membership includes a university parking pass and discounts to the World Theater and athletic events, as well as use of athletic facilities. Students may also choose to pay a per-class fee. To register by mail, call the OLLI office at 831-582-5500

Guthrie is one of several hundred people participating in OLLI, which was established at Cal State Monterey Bay four years ago with funding from the Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco. The 80-year-old Osher is a champion of lifelong learning who backs up that passion with donations of hundreds of millions of dollars. His generosity has funded 119 OLLI programs around the country.

The program is intended for people over 50. Classes focus on personal enrichment and come in a variety of formats: Some are lectures, others are discussions; still others are hands-on. The courses require no tests, research papers or grades.

Most classes are held on campus, though a few are held at other community locations. Topics this semester include gospel choir; modern spiritual masters and integral philosophy, both taught by John Provost; weather and hurricanes; a cultural history of jazz; autumn bird migration; and the California elections, taught by former State Assemblyman Fred Keeley.

Guthrie and nine others turned out on a Thursday morning in September to resume the OLLI Writers’ Circle. All of them are continuing students. They range from beginning writers to published professionals. They’re working on all kinds of projects and all receive constructive feedback on their work. Guthrie is writing a memoir about his experience as a company commander in Vietnam. And he’s serious about it.

“I won’t rest until I’ve told about the soldiers’ bravery and sacrifice under trying conditions,” he said. “The OLLI writing courses have helped me stay focused and productive.”

If he can’t secure a traditional publisher, he intends to self-publish the book.

Kathy Whilden of Monterey, a retired social worker, has been in the Writers Circle since it formed.

“I always thought of myself as a writer – I loved that part of my job. I’m reporting on my life now; I reported on other people’s lives then,” she said.

“Writing about my life is a way to give it validation.”