The Institute for Learning in Retirement celebrates 20 years.
The Institute for Learning in Retirement celebrates 20 years.

From mating calls of amphibians to yoga, seniors are learning it all

Through the years

1997 - ILR joins the office of continuing education in Joyner House
2007 - Office of continuing education becomes Lifelong Learning and moves to McGuffey Hall
2010 - Lifelong Learning hires part-time staff, and the program manager resigns
2011 - ILR loses funding and becomes self-supporting
2013 - Lifelong Learning merges with Global Initiatives and moves to MacMillan Hall

Written by Ritter Hoy, university news and communications

From courses on current events, music, science, and many subjects in between, Miami University’s Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) continues to succeed and flourish after 20 years. The nonprofit educational program is for anyone over age 50 in Southwest Ohio and Eastern Indiana.

The classes are aimed at expanding and upgrading knowledge through interaction with a cross-section of other learners, and some of the course content is obscure.

One of the most popular classes, “What’s That Calling in the Night,” taught by Miami retiree Dick Munson and Brian Keane, professor of biology, explores the mating calls of native frogs and toads in Ohio. Go ahead, read that again.

The ILR is self-supporting, meaning the organization’s members are responsible for all of its expenses (e.g. staff salary and benefits) but receives support from Miami by way of office space, equipment and classroom space.

In addition, 75 percent of all members have a previous connection.

“We’re putting alumni and emeriti back in the classroom with current faculty, current and retired staff, business professionals, undergraduates and graduate students, while providing an intergenerational learning experience and environment that can’t be replicated elsewhere on campus,” said Judy Macke, program manager.

Putting together such a diverse group can lead to unlikely, and special relationships. At the ILR’s 20th anniversary celebration, university ambassador Renate Crawford sparked a fast friendship with 97-year-old Wilhelmina Verhagen. Both women are from Holland, and Wilhelmina was thrilled to have a conversation in Dutch, her first language. On a recent trip home, Crawford brought her new friend back her favorite candy.

Pat Baugher, one of the founding members, got the idea for the ILR while completing a graduate internship at the Center for Creative Retirement at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The center is a comprehensive, forward-thinking program for older learners, and it was Baugher’s hope to start something similar at Miami.

“As a strong believer in the ‘use it or lose it’ principle, I wanted to establish a program that was welcoming, intentional and supportive of physical, mental and social activity for folks of retirement age,” said Baugher.

An initial planning group that included Cynthia Kelley, Barb Eshbaugh and others from the Oxford community worked a year to plan and implement the institute. The group’s primary leaders, Luan Luce and Becky Lukens, both emerita, “left a legacy and inspired many other incredibly talented folks to get involved,” said Baugher.

Particpants tour Miami's campus.

Registration for Spring 2018 is now open online.

The institute began in 1997 as part of the office of continuing education (later called Lifelong Learning). After 10 years, Miami restructured its programs that were considered global in nature, and because Lifelong Learning had an international study component, it merged into the newly created Global Initiatives department.

Macke took over as the program manager in 2012, and under her leadership, enrollment has increased every year. This is the sixth consecutive record-breaking year in the program’s history.

“Boy, are we lucky to have Judy,” said ILR student Susan Thrasher. “She is efficient, personable and pays attention to detail. She also has a sense of humor, a necessity in most any job.”

In its first semester, the program offered only 10 courses and had 76 participants. Now it averages 70-80 courses and special events every semester, and total enrollment over the years has topped 10,000. It has expanded its reach by offering classes at Miami’s Hamilton campus and the Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester.

“Our growth has happened without spending a dime on publicity,” said Macke. “When you offer a quality product and experience, word of mouth becomes your best publicity.”

The last survey showed 99.4 percent of all participants said they were “highly satisfied” with their membership. That includes the first bicycling class cohort. Several years after their first course, the students still get together frequently to ride their bikes.

“I find ILR a wonderful experience both from a class standpoint and a people standpoint,” student Larry Gray said.

The institute produced a video to commemorate the anniversary and celebrate the friendships and bonds. For more information, please visit the Institute of Learning in Retirement.