You are never too old to start learning.
This is the mantra of Sylvia Manheim and other elders hitting the books at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Cal State Long Beach.
For her, age is just a number.
“It’s exciting to keep learning, regardless of your age,” said Manheim, who should know.
She is 96 years old and, despite being legally blind, is still as energetic and lively as she was in her youth. There is not enough room in this column to talk about all that she has accomplished in her remarkable life.
When Manheim retired 25 years ago, she naturally felt a bit bored after living such a rich and varied life. Her resume includes teaching Native Americans to read in northern Michigan, arrest for fighting segregation in Illinois, creating a breast self-examination training program for women. of Long Beach and the education of three children.
She didn’t want to sit at home and watch TV. She wanted to keep learning. But how do you do that?
She was sitting in her backyard with friends talking about what they could do to energize the next phase of their lives when an idea occurred to her.
“How about creating a school where seniors can continue to learn? She asked her friends.
This idea took root and eventually became the main university of Cal State Long Beach in 1996 – and now called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
A party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Senior University-OLLI was scheduled for Sunday, January 9, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, said OLLI president Dr Glenn Libby.
“We will set a new date for the celebration when it is safe to meet together,” he said. “When we resume classes on Monday (January 3), we will only have distance learning for two weeks until we know what the university is going to do, and then align with what CSULB is doing. “
OLLI was fortunate to still have Barbara White as an executive director to get through these difficult times, said Libby. White announced her retirement, but she agreed to stay until a successor was found.
When Manheim and his friends had the idea for a graduate university, they went to see Dr. Donald Lauda, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at CSULB, to find a place to meet and help. to put in place a governance structure. The senior university officially opened in October 1996 with approximately 150 people enrolling in three courses: dissertation writing, news and biotechnology.
Over the past 25 years, membership has peaked at a pre-pandemic over 2,000, with a program that has expanded to an online / in-person combination of 62 eclectic and diverse courses. There is a wide variety of lectures on topics related to the arts, history, science, politics, fitness, economics, health, religion, arts and crafts. and philosophy.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, OLLI has continued to offer online courses on a myriad of topics, including watercolor painting, jewelry making, news, the justice system, technology, music and art appreciation, movies, fitness and more. Computer classes have also become increasingly popular.
The 2,000 members split their time almost 50-50 between in-person and online classes, Libby said.
“The introduction of distance learning through Zoom has been well received by many of our members,” said Libby. “Zoom will likely be part of the OLLI repertoire for the foreseeable future. Some members like to stay in their pajamas while they learn.
Online learning from home is also more appealing if you don’t want to try and find parking on the crowded CSULB campus.
OLLI is a non-profit organization open to adults aged 50 and over. Membership fees are $ 40 per year. Tuition fees for all classes are $ 15.
In 2006, Senior University changed its name to Osher Lifelong Learning Institute after the Bernard Osher Foundation gave the university an endowment of $ 1 million.
Manheim could not be happier with the success of the University for the Elderly.
“It’s exciting to see so many people continue to learn and stay active,” she told me over the phone from her Long Beach home.
Manheim spoke about his childhood and how it influenced his activism.
She was born Sylvia Nuchow on August 28, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrant parents from Russia and Poland. When she was 2 years old, her family moved into a worker housing co-op in the Bronx, known as “Coops”.
She said most of the residents were Eastern European Jewish socialists who had fled persecution in their home countries.
“During my childhood, I lived through the Great Depression and mourned the family I lost in the Holocaust: aunts, uncles and grandparents,” she said. “Living in the Coops really shaped who I am today. We participated in marches for equal rights and equal pay.
In 1944, while working as a hostess at a USO dance party, she met and fell in love with her future husband, Jerry Manheim, a Chicago soldier on leave from his post in France.
After the war, she followed him to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where they married, and he continued his studies in mathematics while she studied anthropology.
“A lot of students have joined the civil rights movement,” Manheim said. “We often accompanied our black colleagues and friends to restaurants in defiance of segregation laws. Getting arrested for civil disobedience has become a regular pastime for me.
While raising three children, Manheim worked odd jobs and earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in counseling. She said her family had become “academic nomads” when her husband moved to teaching positions in northern Michigan, where she taught Native Americans to read, and at Bradley University in Peoria, in. ‘Illinois, where she taught elementary school children.
Her nomadic existence ended in 1971 when her husband was hired as dean of literature and science at the CSULB.
Instead, Manheim found jobs at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, where she taught young men to read, and then on a radio show at Long Beach City College called Senior Connection. Subsequently, she set up a breast self-examination training program at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.
“In my 20 years there,” she said, “we have trained over 25,000 women to examine their own bodies. “
After retiring from Memorial, she and others decided to start a college for the elderly.
“We went everywhere, to churches, to garden clubs, anywhere, and used word of mouth to tell people about our new university,” Manheim said. “We grew from there.”
She praised OLLI for keeping her mind active.
“I went from a founder to a loyal student,” Manheim said. “The wonderful teachers at OLLI stimulate you. I made new friendships. I keep abreast of the news. It’s a real love story.
Manheim told me that the loss of his sight and his ability to read had been “terrible, frightening and frightening”.
“I can’t read, which I have loved doing my whole life,” she said, “but I’m a good listener.”
After 65 years of marriage, her husband passed away in 2011. She is very happy with their three children, said Manheim: Karl, professor of constitutional law at the University of Biola; Lisa, artist and professional yoga teacher in Philadelphia; and Camryn, an Emmy-winning actress who just signed a five-year contract with the hit TV series Law and Order.
She also loves to hear her grandchildren – Noah, Micah and Milo – call her Bubbie, the Yiddish word for grandma.
“I’ve lived a long life and done a lot of things,” Manheim said. “It was an amazing trip and it was worth it. I would do everything again.