Mallory Powell


College: Public Health

Program Celebrates 50 Years of Lifelong Learning at UK

Published: Apr 7, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 7, 2014) --  Irene Elam is a busy 84-year-old. Every weekday, she works form 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. managing rental properties in her hometown of Morehead, Ky. She sees her friends, goes to church, and reads two books a week. But of some of her favorite activities are the classes provided in her community by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Kentucky.


"I've always had a curious mind and I've always wanted to know how and why things work," she said. "I love to find out new things."


Since 1964, UK has worked through the Donovan Fellowship and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)  to ensure that "curiosity never retires" in the Commonwealth.  Through tuition waivers and community-based classes, workshops, and social events, Kentuckians over the age of 50 find intellectual stimulation, physical activity, creative outlets, and social engagement. 



On Saturday, April 12Elam, along with other OLLI members, Donovan Scholars, and community members, will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of lifelong learning at UK at a reception from 1-3:30 p.m. at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray will make an announcement at 1:15 p.m. to commemorate the many accomplishments of the lifelong learning program at UK. The celebration, which is free and open to the public, will also include music by the OLLI Dulcimers, acting and improv by OLLI students, and the happy tunes of a Barbershop Quartet and the the OLLI Chorus. 


UK's lifelong learning program is the brainchild of UK President Dr. Herman Donovan, who envisioned a program for continuing education for persons 65 and older. In 1961 he proposed to the White House Conference on Aging that colleges and universities, particularly public ones, owed their greatness to the work, support, gifts, taxes and votes of people now grown old, and could easily make their educational resources available to them

Three years later, the UK Board of Trustees approved the Herman L. Donovan Fellowship for Senior Citizens, allowing for tuition waiver for individuals over the age of 65.  The first 16 "Donovan Scholars," ranging in age from 65 to 84, were admitted in the fall of 1964.


“More than fifty years ago President Donovan announced to UK, and to the nation, a vision that welcomed to the university adults with a lifelong passion for learning," said Mike Smith, executive director of OLLI at UK. 


The program quickly earned national recognition, including a 1966 TIME magazine article that dubbed the program "Educare," a reference to Medicare, which was another new program at hte time. The national publicity resulted in inquiries from every state and many foreign countries interested in establishing similar programs.


Now in its 50th year, UK's lifelong learning program maintains the Donovan Fellows tuition waiver for students over 65, and 53 degrees -- including five doctorates -- have been earned through the program. Additionally, OLLI at UK has evolved to include non-credit educational programs and shared interest groups not just in Lexington but also in Morehead and Somerset, and the participation age for community events has been lowered to 50. These expansions were made possible in large part from a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation in 2007, when the program became one of 116 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes across the United States.


"As we age, we continue to grow and change who we are, what we want from life, and more importantly, from ourselves," said Diana Lockridge, program director at OLLI at UK.  "The OLLI at UK is continually growing and evolving as well, searching to create unique and meaningful learning opportunities and occasions, that inspire our members and strengthen their passion for learning." 


In the 2012-13 academic year, there were approximately 1,500 adults over the age of 50 involved in OLLI programs at UK. The upcoming year will offer over 50 courses, in addition to the Donovan Forums, a biannual speaker series.


For Elam, the OLLI at UK allows her to explore subjects and activities that she didn't have a chance for previously.


"I thought, 'I'm going to do all the things that I was never able to do while working and raising a family.'"  


She particularly enjoys art and history classes, but each spring and fall she looks forward to seeing what new classes will be offered.


"I've taken practically all of the classes," she said. "And they're always coming up with new ideas. It seems like each year there's another class that pops up that I just have to take. I look forward to it every spring and fall."


And as someone who claims to never have been bored in her life, Elam appreciates the opportunities to continue learning in her community.


"That's what we're trying to do, to keep the mind active and get out and move around so you feel better and you're healthier," she said. "It's been a wonderful experience. It really has helped a lot of people."


In addition to the celebration on April 12, OLLI at UK will host a series of events to commemorate its 50th anniversary.  There will be pop up events this summer at McConnell Springs Founders Day, Moon Dance Jazz Nights, and the Lexington Farmer’s Market. The festivities will culminate with the 50th Anniversary Gala on July 31, 2014.


"It is truly an honor to work alongside our volunteers, together designing unique learning opportunities and events of the 50th anniversary of lifelong learning at UK, said Lockridge.  "Throughout 2014, we will commemorate the storied past, celebrate a dynamic present, and prepare for a vibrant future."


For more information about OLLI anniversary events and regular programs, please call 859-257-2656, toll free 866-602-5862, or visit     


MEDIA CONTACT: Mallory Powell,


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