OLLI at Aquinas College

About OLLI

The History and Development of OLLI at Aquinas
Browne Center   
The OLLI at Aquinas program at Aquinas College began in 1973 as a vision of former Aquinas College president Dr. Norbert Hruby to establish a center for lifelong learning. Dr. Hruby believed that Aquinas College had a responsibility to provide pre- and post- retirement educational opportunities to the growing population of those 50 and older. This insight and commitment were ahead of its time; especially when most small colleges were struggling just to maintain their traditional-aged students.
In the autumn of 1975, 115 “students” enrolled in courses in what was then called the Aquinas Emeritus College. In 1978, the Aquinas College Board of Trustees created the Emeritus Board to serve as an advisory body for the program. The Emeritus College program has grown steadily through the years, and more than 1500 students participate annually in the program’s classes. Today, over 41 years later, OLLI at Aquinas is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country.
In 2008, the Emeritus College became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Aquinas, proudly continuing the rich tradition of serving the intellectual and spiritual needs of older learners in West Michigan. With a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation, OLLI at Aquinas joined a nationwide network of lifelong learning institutes across the country, all devoted to best practices in lifelong learning. There are 119 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) spanning all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each is an independently operated lifelong learning initiative of its host college or university and is supported in part by the Bernard Osher Foundation. The network formed progressively over a period of nearly 15 years, beginning in 2001. As of November 2015, more than 151,000 people nationwide are members of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. Through satellite locations or partner organization locations, the 119 OLLIs offer courses and activities in nearly 300 individual cities and towns throughout the U.S..
The OLLI program boasts six sessions (Fall I, Fall II, January, Winter, Spring, June) offering more than 220 distinct courses per year in its on-campus program. OLLI also offers programs in collaboration with its community partners such as the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Broadway Grand Rapids, Opera of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Ballet, the public library, and senior retirement facilities in which the classes are held at their specific locations. Additionally, OLLI’s classes are often field trips in and outside the community to visit local historic and cultural places such as new and old businesses, art institutes, theatres, wineries, and stately mansions. We even offer trips abroad!
Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, Chancellor Emerita of Aquinas College, has provided oversight for the Emeritus College, now OLLI, since 1980 and continues to guide its growth and vision. Its dedicated Board, together with the director(s) and program coordinator, work toward developing curriculum, increasing the program’s visibility within the community, and identifying funding sources. The success of OLLI at Aquinas over the past 30 years is due in large part to a vibrant and generous community that has provided both leadership and financial support.

Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, the visionary behind OLLI and currently Chancellor Emerita at Aquinas College, expressed beautifully who and what we are at OLLI:  There exists at the Browne Center a little island of lively activity, where the human spirit can soar, free of the limitations of time, pressure, or career-seeking or money-making. Here, mature minds can study, reflect, and discuss at leisure as they always yearned to do—not in order to earn a credit or a dollar, not to meet requirements or pass exams, but for the pure joy of learning and growing. Each year, the OLLI classes continue to satisfy that longing in its eager students, who display such boundless intellectual curiosity and verve in exploring the urgent daily concerns of our nation and world. Thank you, students, for continuing to join us and bring our programs to life!