Sun City teachers add to OLLI's success

November 5, 2010 

Ask Dan Campbell why he's leaving as director of the University of South Carolina Beaufort's OLLI program, and he replies, grinning, "So I can take some OLLI courses."

OLLI is the acronym for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, an adult continuing education program that's established on 124 American college campuses, including USCB's. Campbell was appointed director of the local OLLI program by Chancellor Jane Upshaw five years ago.

The post is part-time, Campbell notes. But he's gotten full-time results. For example, since his appointment Campbell has increased both the OLLI funding (the last grant was for $2 million for two years) and the enrollment of OLLI students in four locations - on USCB's Bluffton and Beaufort campuses, on Hilton Head Island and in Jasper County.

In addition, under his guidance, Olli student membership has grown from 800 to 1300, with enough courses (450, from 125 originally) to keep members occupied five days a week.

But before classes can be announced in OLLI"s printed Curriculum Guide, volunteer instructors must be recruited. Forty-one of OLLI's 184 present instructors live in Sun City, including four married couples.

Many of them spent their careers as teachers in public schools or colleges before retiring here. Others, like myself, weren't previously teachers but have "latched on" to a particular subject or place, and now enjoy telling OLLI students about it. Their only pay is satisfaction.

Take Mike Ivers, for example. He's been an OLLI instructor for as long as Dan Cambell's been director. Ivers' specialty is the music and rhythms most Sun City residents danced, sang or whistled to in their teens.

Ivers' OLLI courses have included the music produced by the "Big Bands" and their leaders (Benny Goodman, Harry James, the Dorsey Brothers and scores more); "the Crooners" (from Rudy Vallee to Frank Sinatra and beyond); and the composers and lyricists (the Gershwin brothers, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, and others) who were to OLLI students what Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Rock 'n Roll are today to their children.

This semester Ivers, who headed a retail business before retiring to Sun City, is teaching two music courses, "The Short Happy Life of the Swing Era" and "All Talking, All Singing" which covers movie music.

Part of his popularity is due to his amazing collection of 35,000 songs. "I started collecting records when I was 11 and have never stopped," he explains.

Today the computer helps Ivers restore old '78s and LPs to their original sound, minus telltale scratches, and convert the audio signals to digital sound waves. Using special software, Ivers spends hours editing original musical numbers. Then he re-records the clean, single track to the CD he'll eventually use in class or for his own listening pleasure.

Another Sun City-OLLI instructor who likes to share his musical knowledge is Dr. Lou Valente, formerly both a dentist and a medical doctor. Valente tells this writer that his musical courses "deal with dissecting and analyzing classical music to achieve greater understanding and pleasure from the works of musical geniuses," such as Felix Mendelssohn.

He grew up "in a musical home where my father was a self-taught violinist who also played the guitar and mandolin" and his three older brothers were professional musicians and music teachers. He himself studied the clarinet and later the xylophone from the head percussionist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

For his current three-part OLLI course, which Dr. Valente calls "an accurate, second-to-second schematic representation" of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, he will be teaching a total of 30 hours.

But he's also presenting two one-and-half-hour classes "dealing with professional ethics and morality, as well as a broad overview of many dental-facial diseases and their treatments."

Another Sun City favorite among OLLI students is history buff and antique dealer Patricia Washko whose humorous course titles usually contribute to filled classrooms. For instance, now Washko offers a single presentation, "To Bathe or not to Bathe" as a "lighthearted lecture on the history of bathing throughout the ages."

From a study of the arts to dissecting the anatomy of the short story, from health and medicine to personal growth, OLLI's volunteer teachers offer their senior students from Sun City and other nearby places a full menu of topics to digest. Ask them and they'll explain that they teach because they believe wholeheartedly "what you don't know, you can learn."

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