A lifelong learning community

By Kyle Hobstetter on July 23, 2018

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University thanks volunteers with luncheon after previewing new classes

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Volunteers
Volunteers for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University pose for a group photo during a luncheon honoring them. 

For almost 20 years, The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University has offered adults age 50 and older opportunities to continue learning – including classes, day trips, book clubs and even discussion groups.

With a team of three staff members, Osher has relied on volunteers to help accommodate almost 800 students and participants. The Institute has over 80 volunteers who hand out information, work as instructors and serve on committees.

To help honor these volunteers, The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute held a special “Thank You” luncheon for them on Thursday, July 19, at the South Campus Pavilion near the Auburn House.

The luncheon was the first event organized solely to thank Osher volunteers. Director Tracy Jacobs felt it was important to hold an event that expressed the staff's gratitude for them.

“All the programming, all of the activities, classes, everything that we do is supported by volunteers and their efforts,” Jacobs said. “The programming itself must be important and special to them, otherwise they wouldn’t want to give back.”

Founded in 1999 as the Auburn Society, the program took its name from its original home in the historic Auburn House on TU’s campus. The program became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in 2006 when it was awarded a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Two members who have been involved with Osher since the beginning are Jacqui and Jim Hedberg. Their first experience with Osher was when Jacqui took a wine-tasting class in the Auburn House basement. Nearly 20 years later, the couple continues to take classes.

But more important, they donate their time as volunteers for Osher — Jim is active on the classroom facilitation and art exhibition committees, while Jacqui has worked on the hospitality committee and teaches a class as a volunteer instructor.

“There is so much you can learn at Osher in every subject imaginable,” Jacqui said. “It’s amazing, and a lot of it has to do with the quality of the people leading us. That’s why we come back, and that’s why we volunteer.”

Betsy Lafferty is another volunteer who started volunteering after taking classes. She serves on the membership committee while also doing some smaller volunteer work.

When Lafferty retired, a friend suggested she check out Osher and its programs. After taking a few classes and enjoying the easygoing learning atmosphere, she wanted to help Osher continue to grow.  

“We’re the grease behind the wheels in getting things done for Osher,” Lafferty said of the volunteers. “I believe Osher gives you opportunities to meet people and also to do something for an organization you believe in — and I definitely believe in Osher. It’s been wonderful to me.”

Along with the luncheon, Osher hosted its annual preview of classes at the Central Presbyterian Church, which hosts some of Osher’s larger classes. The event enables members and potential members to learn about the courses for the upcoming term.

The preview features rapid fire, three-minute presentations from each instructor. According Jacobs, these presentations give students a real sense of the instructor’s personality and bring the course description to life.

One of the volunteers who worked at the preview is Anne Graham, who helps plan Osher’s day trips. Graham started with Osher in 2004, when she went to the group’s winter preview.

“I immediately joined and have been coming to classes ever since,” Graham said. “And I’ll continue to do so as long as I’m able to get about. My only problem with Osher is that I haven’t learned to be in two places at the same time, so I can take two classes at once.”

Osher is headquartered at 7400 York Road in Towson, where classes are held throughout the year. Along with the preview of classes event, Osher’s fall schedule can be found online.

The TU program is not the only lifelong learning experience in the Baltimore area. But for participants like the Hedbergs, Lafferty and Graham, the community that The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University provides is as important as the classes.

“The people we meet are just so wonderful,” Jim Hedberg said. “We made some really good friends here, and for anybody who is retiring and saying they don’t know what to do, or I’m bored, this has such wonderful opportunities.”

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland.