By Sheila Toomey
For Senior Voice 

Something for every lifelong learner


September 1, 2022 | View PDF

Courtesy Donna Gail Shaw, OLÉ! member

Dr. Rachel Mason, Senior Cultural Anthropologist for the National Park Service in Anchorage, leads a presentation on the WWII internment of Japanese Americans and Aleut people, part of an eight-week course offered during the winter 2019 semester.

Let's get right to the point. If you have never been tempted by the OLÉ catalog, one can only ask: Where were you raised? In a fun-free cave somewhere?

OLÉ!, ("Opportunities for Lifelong Education") is the popular learning program for grown-ups, is back -and it's time to pick your Fall courses.

The schedule this semester offers a dizzying array of options. There is the usual writing, yoga, estate planning, painting, genealogy, etc. But how about DNA technology? Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt today? The Book of Genesis? Tsunamis or Taxonomy?

You can delve into Charles Dickens or Jack Lemmon, with a side dish of Marilyn Monroe. You can study Chinese poetry or the Russian language. Or learn how to strengthen your connective tissue. Really!

What about PechaKucha (look it up) or Astrobiology - yes, it's about extra- terrestrial life (or not).

You get the picture.

One of OLÉ!'s most potent lures is you can dive into something you know absolutely nothing about. There are no tests and no grades. Meredith Parham, a retired administrator and musician, takes music courses. But one year she signed up for an engineering class on bridge building. Why? Well, why not? Learning about something outside your usual comfort zone "expands your mind in all sorts of ways you never thought you might," Parham said.

Sue Riehle, who teaches one of the courses Parham takes, agrees. She uses the recorder to teach retirees how to read music. She was "blown away" when 19 people showed up for her first class six years ago. "Students" who have already lived 50 years or more "have a zest for life, a real sense of fun," she said. Teaching them is delightful, she added.

Riehle's pupils not only learned how to read music, they got good enough on their recorders to give concerts at the Pioneer Home and the senior center.

OLÉ!, which started in 2007 and now serves hundreds of students with dozens of ever-changing offerings, is "truly a work of volunteers," said Kee Miner, a founding board member and current secretary. Volunteer work - a lot of it by the board - is pulled together by a single paid contractor, and that's it, Miner said.

Although any member can take any course, the program was created primarily for retired people, people over 50 who no longer report to an office but still want to keep their brains in gear. The name stands for Opportunities for Lifelong Education. Membership costs $200 a year but opens the door to three semesters and as many courses as you want to take. All classes are held during the day.

Mike Doogan, the writer and columnist, now retired, says he's taken about a dozen courses over five years and intends to continue. "They're just really interesting," he said, citing classes in 14th century literature, photojournalism, Darwin, Ray Bradbury and great old movies.

Who teaches all this? Apparently people who know a lot about a given subject and love it so much they're willing to teach for free, said Doogan.

Courtesy Susan Soule, OLÉ! member

Instructor Justin Neff, right, leads a session during the course, "The 24 Movements of Yang Tai Chi," offered during the OLE 2020 winter term.

That's correct: No one gets paid to teach in OLÉ!. The result is a nice match - people who want to teach and people who want to learn.

"Nobody has to be there," Doogan said.

Riehle, the music teacher, first taught during a sojourn in New Zealand. She did it there as a way to meet people and make friends of strangers in a fairly isolated rural area. When she returned to Alaska, she wanted to replicate that rewarding experience. With OLÉ!, she said, she has done so.

Course selection is already underway. Classes begin September 26.

Most Tuesday-to-Thursday classes are still on Zoom, but there are some exceptions and Friday courses are in person. Courses generally meet once a week for either four or eight weeks, but there are exceptions to all these rules so check it out.

Everything you need is at the website,


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