UCR Palm Desert Center
March 1, 2023

Retirees Experience Mental and Social Benefits Through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Riverside

Donor-supported adult learning program provides local retirees opportunities to build knowledge and develop community.

Author: Devlin Smith
March 1, 2023
 Fund Stories

Carl Bode wanted his retirement to be as busy as his working life was. Once a self-employed manufacturer representative, Bode now spends his time serving on boards and committees in his community, traveling, playing golf, and taking classes through UC Riverside’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a program for adults 50 and older.

“I was the kind of guy who got up at 5 in the morning and went until 7 at night — just work, work, work — and enjoyed every bit of it, but when that came to an end, I don’t want to play golf all my life and I don’t want to do this or that, so this was a chance to stimulate my mind and keep current,” Bode said.

For the past six years, Bode has taken a weekly class covering current and past legal topics taught by retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge and former public defender Gary Bindman. The OLLI class gives Bode the opportunity to learn more about the legal issues behind current events, engage in discussions with classmates, and socialize with friends, who gather for lunch after each in-person class to continue to the conversation.

The legal issues class was one of nearly two dozen in-person and virtual classes offered by UCR OLLI in the fall quarter to adult learners in Inland Southern California. Topics covered in the classes taught by expert and enthusiast instructors included art, literature, history, and current events. UCR OLLI members like Bode experience a wide range of benefits from participating in the program.

“Community programs, such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, are some of the best ways for older adults to learn new things in a social setting,” said Rachel Wu, associate professor of psychology, director of the CALLA Lab at UCR (Cognitive Agility Across the Lifespan via Learning and Attention). “Research shows that learning new things is important for increasing cognitive abilities and maintaining the ability to live independently.”

Group of community members outside of the UC Riverside’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)

Providing members with those types of benefits is one of the aims of the program, which operates out of UCR’s Palm Desert and Riverside Extension centers and is supported by an endowment from The Bernard Osher Foundation, membership fees, and donations made to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Fund at UCR. This funding enables UCR OLLI to hold classes, host field trips and special events for members, present special public programming, and provide assistance to members who can’t afford the full program fees so as many people as possible can experience all that OLLI has to offer.

“For us, personally, there are so many reasons why we enjoy the experience, part of it is the community of learners, part of it is that we learn something new from every class, and part of it is that there are things we never imagined we would be interested in or enjoy that we’ve come to love from the classes that we’ve taken,” said Dr. Philip Gold, professor emeritus of medicine at Loma Linda University, a UCR OLLI member and donor who has taken classes in politics, art, government, music, and wine tasting.

Instructors see how much members are benefiting in each of their classes.

Group of community members inside of the UC Riverside’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)

“There are a lot of people who are or want to stay really mentally active and that’s amazing because I’ve read if you don’t stimulate your mind, it’s going to degrade — so you cannot put a value on that benefit,” said Barry Schoenfeld, a marketing consultant who has taught performing arts and history classes at UCR OLLI since 2019. “There are people who show up ready to go, ready with questions, and they’re really keeping themselves vitally alive. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Members are excited to share with family and friends what they’re learning in UCR OLLI classes.

“I had a student who was in her 90s, she was an absolute doll, and she was taking Osher classes because her grandkids were graduating college and she wanted to be relevant,” said Wayne Wooden, professor emeritus of sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, a current UCR OLLI member and former instructor. “I said, ‘What I’ll do is I’ll make a little diploma for you at the end of the class,’ which I did to give to her to show her grandkids how well she did in college.”

OLLI instructors, some of whom are retirees themselves, are gaining as much from the program as members do.

“I’ve often said that if I didn’t have UCR Osher, I don’t know what I would be doing because I have a lot of friends that said to me when they retired that they were going to play golf five or six days a week, and I don’t think that most of my friends, including myself, have the physical strength to play golf five or six days a week,” said Robert Kretzmer, a retired risk manager and insurance broker who has taught wine tasting classes through UCR OLLI since 2019. “I think it’s really interesting to meet a group of very diverse seniors who want to learn more about wine, and this has just been life-changing for me, it’s just been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

For more information about UCR’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), and how to support the program, please visit palmdesert.ucr.edu/welcome-ucr-osher.


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