Osher provides opportunities for lifelong learners

Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” If learning keeps a person young, the University of Missouri Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is Columbia and Boone County’s fountain of youth.

Osher offers a variety of classes aimed at helping those over age 50 keep their minds active. Various membership levels are available, allowing people to take as few or as many classes as they are interested in. Volunteers teach courses such as “Cycles of Poetry and Song,” “Bees, Flowers and Pollination,” “French Conversation” and “Terrorism and Contemporary Cultures of Violence.” Special discussions and events also are held. On Fridays, Osher hosts a brown bag seminar series and a free film class complete with popcorn in the afternoons. The institute also has offered classes at the senior center.

“We try to have a variety of literature, science and politics, and we often have something related to computers and genealogy,” said Helen Washburn, chair of the Osher Advisory Council. “Besides classes, there also is a social element. We have parties and gatherings and encourage people to bring a guest.”

Among the most popular courses are public-events classes focused on local- or state-related issues and religion classes.

Course subjects largely are dependent on what the instructors want to teach, said Michael Porter, chair of Osher’s outreach committee.

“Every session is something new. We have teachers with such a breadth of knowledge it boggles my mind,” Porter said. “I think our Osher program benefits greatly from being in a college town.”

Washburn first got involved with Osher at the suggestion of a neighbor shortly after moving to Columbia. All of the literature classes intrigued her, and she soon became hooked.

“What I soon discovered is the people in the classes are as interesting as the instructors,” said Washburn, noting the institute has more than 500 members. “People are really engaged in the classes. They do the reading and come with questions and opinions.”

Columbia is lucky to have the Osher program to help keep its bright and active community members engaged, Porter said.

“We have people that take two, three, four courses a session. Their only complaint is they have two classes they want to take scheduled at the same time,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have, and that’s our biggest compliment.”

Most of the funding for Osher comes from member fees, but the program also receives Extension funding. Many instructors are retired teachers and professors, though Washburn said educational experience is not necessary.

The institute’s mission of promoting lifelong education builds on the legacy of people such as Ford and Bernard Osher, the philanthropist who started the national program.

“All the research says mental development is crucial to keeping you active and engaged and avoiding Alzheimer’s,” Washburn said. “The more you stretch your brain, the better the payoff. We’ve had people come and say, ‘My doctor told me I needed to take a class.’”

To read more information on Osher and to view a schedule of courses, visit extension.missouri.edu/learnforlife.