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Lorraine Vail and Anne Bellegia hold Pam Hounschild’s design for Giving Garden, a sketch that will be colored in as donations towards OLLI’s ReNEWall capital campaign are received. (Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella)

OLLI renews and refreshes

A campy, murder comedy with wine and dinner – what’s not to love about “Murder at the Café Noir?” Figure out who dun it along with the OLLI Improv Players today and Sunday, Nov. 3 and 4, in Stevenson Union at Southern Oregon University. It’s something of a whodunit crossed with who’ll-help-do-it — a fundraiser to support the renovation of the OLLI teaching space.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) has operated out of a matched set of World War II-era buildings off Frances Street in Ashland since 1993. This year is the 25th anniversary of OLLI at Southern Oregon University and, to celebrate, OLLI has launched the “ReNEWall” (renew-all) capital campaign to refurbish its quarters and update the smart classrooms with state-of-the-art learning systems.

Located on the campus of Southern Oregon University, nearly 2,000 OLLI learners and faculty fill the five classrooms of the complex and enjoy the enclosed courtyard garden. Named the Campbell Center in honor of Phil Campbell, once SOU Housing Director, the old Camp White buildings have in the past served as dorms, apartments, married student housing, faculty housing, SOU maintenance offices and Elderhostel classrooms.

With a hard start and after years of use, the OLLI classrooms are worn and ragged, the teaching equipment outdated and heating and air conditioning is inadequate for the space. They’re more than overdue for a refresh.

The first of the five classrooms was updated in 2017, making Classroom A everyone’s preferred classroom. Once three residential units and now a smart classroom, touchscreen teaching technology has improved teaching and learning. The seats are comfortable and the new LED lighting can be dimmed to the best brightness for that space.

“The new HDTV screens make all the difference, especially for older eyes,” says Anne Bellegia, a longtime OLLI member who works on the OLLI Communications and Outreach Committee. “The screens are so much brighter and the resolution so much clearer. And the new equipment works! Having something that is simple and reliable is important.”

Classrooms B and C are scheduled for remodel in winter 2019. The cost for construction, technology, and furnishing is estimated at $665,000, with more than $330,000 raised to date thanks to a few lead donors, the OLLI leadership and the SOU’s contributed infrastructure renovations. OLLI will seek $90,000 from grants and $225,000 from individual contributors to complete the ReNEWall campaign by June 1, 2019.

Many capital campaigns use a thermometer to illustrate fundraising success, but not OLLI’s. Pam Haunschild, OLLI member and nature and wildlife artist will create a three-panel, wall-sized mural called “Giving Garden” to commemorate gift giving, sketching out the panels in black. The design echoes the lush courtyard gardens between the two OLLI classroom buildings and will be filled with color from left to right as an indicator of giving.

“As gifts are received, the mural will come to life as it’s painted in the colors of the plants and butterflies and dogwood blossoms,” explains Lorraine Vail, chair of the OLLI ReNEWall campaign. After the renovation is complete, the Giving Garden will hang in the all-new member lounge.

OLLI offers an ever-changing series of educational opportunities for active learners — everything from tai chi to thermodynamics, classes taught by experts in their fields. At $125 a year for all the courses you care to take (scholarships available), OLLI is one of Southern Oregon’s best educational bargains.

OLLI provides much more than learning opportunities, and that’s why the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is so important to so many.

“OLLI lets people delve into an area, but more important is the connection piece,” Bellegia notes. “There are so many transitions people go through — retirement, relocation, losing a partner or family member; when you take a class everyone in that class has a similar interest to yours and people feel that they have meaning and purpose, they find friends.”

For more information on the OLLI ReNEWall campaign and to make a contribution, contact Lorraine Vail, co-chair of the Campbell Center Renovation Committee, at lvail627@gmail.com or call the OLLI office at 541-552-6048.

For more information on teaching and learning at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center and for tickets to “Murder at the Café Noir,” visit inside.sou.edu/olli or, better yet, stop by at 655 Frances Lane, enjoy a cup of coffee and meet the OLLI folks. You’ll find a warm welcome.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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