OLLI offers more than 50 classes to seniors who want to remain active in mind and body.
By Bárbara Gutiérrez
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 26, 2017)—Jenny Zanzuri is a living example that one can master new technology at any age. The 97-year-old is the oldest student at the University of Miami Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), but her spirit and determination are forever young.
The retired United Nations staffer, who worked for the assistant secretary of economics and social affairs, Ubers every Wednesday to join 20 students taking the iPhone and iPad Basics Class.
“I am stupid when it comes to these devices,” she said, tapping her iPhone. “But this class will help me.” Zanzuri wants to use her new knowledge to keep in touch with her daughter and friends.
The class, offered at Founders Hall on the Coral Gables campus, is one of more than 50 classes offered per week at the institute for anyone over the age of 50 who has an active mind and the willingness to be a student again. Many of the students are doctors, lawyers, professors, and others whose lives and personal experiences enrich the everyday curriculum. At the center, students enjoy a variety of programs, from tai chi and yoga to watercolor and classes on investments and current events.
Keeping active and feeling a sense of purpose is what attracts many OLLI members, who pay $40 to join the institute. These days the numbers of students are increasing in great part thanks to an explosion of baby boomers who are retiring, said Julia Cayuso, OLLI director. OLLI has seen close to a 140 percent rise in enrollment numbers in the past four years.
“It has been truly remarkable,” said Cayuso. “Our numbers are going through the roof.”
Fortunately, OLLI recently received a second $1 million endowment grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation, which will support the center’s operations so it can continue providing classes and activities for seniors. About 10 percent of the faculty are UM professors, said Cayuso.
There seems to be a class for every interest. But among the most popular is Robert Dawson’s class Triumph and Tragedy: the Lives of Great Men. At the inaugural class this year, Dawson, a historian, wore a turban and red frock and proudly introduced himself: “My name is Marco Polo.”
Each week he dons another costume and identity. He believes teaching in costumes makes the lessons more memorable.
That resonates with 70-year-old history buff Tom Brown, a retired Miami-Dade County Fire Department battalion chief, who has been a member of OLLI for four years and has taken all of Dawson’s classes.
“I like coming here because I find that I learn a lot and it keeps me active,” said Brown, who also volunteers as a tour guide at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and teaches Sunday school at his church.
Another popular offering is Global Viewpoints, taught by Mitra Raheb, a former St. Thomas University professor whose candid style kept her nearly 100 students in awe as she taught the politics of the Middle East.
“What I most enjoy is the students,” said Raheb, who also teaches at FIU’s OLLI. “Their diverse educational, cultural, and political background keeps the class lively and informative.”
For Chris Weinberg, 67, who has been taking classes at OLLI for two and half years, that energy is what keeps her coming and volunteering for several committees.
“It’s a very special place,” said Weinberg, who worked in advertising for many years. “It draws the intellectually curious, and we feel that we are part of a family.”
Like Weinberg, many members donate their time and energy to the member institute. That is the motor that keeps OLLI running, said Cayuso.
A caring committee keeps tabs on members who may be hospitalized or have suffered a loss. A recently organized choral group provides another outlet for those with musical talents.
“It is truly a volunteer-driven place,” Cayuso said. “Many of the members serve on committees that determine the curriculum, plan the social events, and focus on growth and retention of membership.”