SOUTH BEND — “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” This old saying has never been more discredited than by the work of the Forever Learning Institute. Located in the Parish Center at St. Therese, Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend, the Forever Learning Institute has been offering low-cost courses to senior citizens since 1974.
The mission of Forever Learning Institute is to improve the quality and dignity of senior adult life through continuing intellectual challenge, spiritual reflection and social interaction. From “Beginning Arabic” to “Microsoft Office” and “Euchre for Fun,” the Forever Learning Institute provides a variety of courses where people over the age of 50 can both enhance and share their knowledge.
The Forever Learning Institute began as a vision of Holy Cross Father Louis Putz. A retired theology faculty member from the University of Notre Dame, Father Putz believed that life has three stages: the age of learning, the age of earning and the age of returning. The last of these, the returning stage of this life, is where one’s talents are given back to the community in service to others.
Father Putz had a vision of a school where volunteer teachers would affirm the dignity and quality of life in its later stages, providing intellectual growth, social interaction and spiritual reflection.
With this vision in mind, Father Putz began to take action. He met with advisory groups, secured a location and recruited volunteer teachers. Sister Madeline Adamczak of the Sisters of St. Joseph became the organization’s first executive director. In September of 1975, the Forever Learning Institute offered its first classes, serving 115 students through 22 different courses. Now in its 41st season and under the directive of Holy Cross Sister Linda Kors, the Forever Learning Institute has become the most successful senior educational program in the area.
The 2016 spring semester will offer 110 classes to an anticipated 1,300 students, including classes at six off-campus locations.
Father Putz was known for saying that “service is a vehicle that adds years to your life and life to your years.” With over a plethora of community supporters, over 100 volunteer teachers and an entirely volunteer board, the organization truly embodies Father Putz’s vision of service.
Elsie Nemeth, president of the board of directors and experienced teacher of 47 years, shares, “Father Putz understood the importance of teamwork, and therefore it was precisely why he emphatically stressed the importance of a volunteer faculty and board giving freely of their time and talents to be of service to others.”
Nemeth continues, “Our school creates a special environment where lives are enriched, lasting friendships are made, and desired learning by choice takes place.”
One member, Mary Catherine Beier, has enjoyed many classes at the Forever Learning Institute, experiencing the vision of Father Putz in action. Having known Father Putz personally, she shares how committed he was to his mission: Father Putz thoroughly believed that seniors should keep their minds alert and their bodies healthy.
Beier recalls him saying, “If all you do is sit in a rocking chair, don’t just sit there — rock!” Beier’s studies have included Hawaiian dance, poetry, calligraphy and sign language.
Nemeth adds, “This particular age group is quite unique because it desires to learn for the sheer joy of learning. Its energy and enthusiasm for life reminds me that every day is a blessing and a gift from above to be enjoyed and appreciated.”
She continues, “What I have come to witness and know firsthand is the remarkable relationships we seniors at Forever Learning Institute have with one another. We are a team that consists of faculty, students, board members and staff. The sharing of knowledge, expertise, skills and wisdom that takes place are primary factors for the success of our school.”
The Forever Learning Institute is a diversified community united in the joy of learning. Participants come from all around, with many attending from as far away as Michigan. While the majority of participants are retired, this is not a requirement of participation and not all are.
The Forever Learning Institute offers two sessions annually: September-November and March-May. The 2016 spring semester begins March 7, and all courses run for 10 weeks, concluding the week of May 9, for one or two hours each meeting. For the first time, special “snow bird” classes are being offered, beginning the week of April 4.
Courses are open to everyone ages 50-plus, and the registration fee is only $45. Need-based scholarships are available.
To register and join this family of lifelong learners, visit www.ForeverLearningInstitute.org and complete the online form, or print the registration form and drop it off at the Forever Learning Institute. Onsite registration is available March 1-3.
For information, visit www.ForeverLearningInstitute.org or call the office at 574-282-1901.
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