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OLLI

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Robert Ober. Photo courtesy of Dave Ober

Prepared by Dave Ober

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My sister and I owe our existence to the fateful day in 1960 when Robert “Bob” Ober — while sneaking his friend back into the University of Buffalo infirmary — mistakenly entered our mother’s room during her recovery from chicken pox.

Following a mischievous adolescence in which he stole an airplane, launched a rocket from inside his college dorm and ran all-night underground poker games, Bob tried his hand at professional golf until he “matured” to embark on a career as an airline pilot for Pan American and Delta airlines.

Bob, 83, was first and foremost a dedicated husband for six decades, sharing a lifelong love affair with Lynda that included high daily doses of laughter. A committed father and grandfather, Bob embraced his family with every fiber of his energetic and colorful existence. He had an insatiable curiosity, an enormous heart and unending generosity, spending most of his time focusing on the problems of the world and the well-being of others. Bob died on Dec. 6 of an aortic dissection.

Following his retirement from aviation, Bob’s second calling was teaching at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook University. At OLLI, Bob enthralled his students for a dozen years by using his tireless curiosity to sprout spirited debate and brought compelling, high-profile guests to classes in current events and “law and politics.” His classes were always oversubscribed as local learners were eager to hear from the many experts he recruited to educate others and respond to his penetrating and provocative questions.

Bob grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, in the shadow of the U.S. Open tennis tournament where he honed his skills watching the greats and even had the good fortune to hit with some of the top pros of the day, like Pancho Gonzalez and Lew Hoad. When he wasn’t working to perfect a golf swing he spent his entire life honing, Bob found ways to defy authority and push the envelope.

Since his putting stroke prevented him from reaching the level of proficiency required for the PGA Tour, his “contingency plan” of taking flying lessons led to an illustrious 36-year career ferrying passengers to all corners of the globe. He was recruited by Pan Am in 1966, flew Nixon to China on a White House press charter in 1972 and shuttled his children between colleges while flying the Delta shuttle between LaGuardia, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Well-read and well-traveled, Bob could recall even the most obscure statistics and apply them while sharing his ideas to solve the world’s problems. He was not only eager to learn, he was also interested in the opinions of those that differed from his own.

Reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60, he regularly appeared on TV as a go-to expert on aviation incidents, where he shared his thoughts on the causes and prevention of disasters.

During an esteemed career of transporting hundreds of thousands of passengers safely to their destinations without scratching an airplane, Bob remained committed to his wife and their children. He wrote daily letters to his daughter Jennifer at camp and played in numerous national tennis tournaments with his son Dave. When Bob was 75, the father-son duo ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Bob never slowed down in his productive and enriching life, forging meaningful and lasting relationships with his grandchildren, attending their various activities. He was lovingly remembered by his son, daughter, grandchildren, daughter-in-law Heather and son-in-law Steve at a memorial service at Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown. He was interred at Riverside Cemetery in Saddle Brook, New Jersey.

Bob is survived by his wife Lynda, children David and Jennifer, daughter-in-law Heather, son-in-law Steve, grandchildren Sabrina, Brandon, Carly, Joshua and Jacob and his sister Jayne.

Donations in Bob’s name can be made to the American Heart Association at heart.org/donate.

In the fall, OLLI classes were contained in the Social & Behavioral Sciences building, the Charles B. Wang Center, above, and Student Activities Center this fall. Photo from Stony Brook University

Continuing education students in Suffolk County recently found out speaking up can garner better results.

Students and workshop leaders enrolled in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook University, a program that offers workshops, lectures and activities to retired and semiretired individuals, breathed sighs of relief when SBU representatives informed them at a June 27 meeting at the university that all OLLI classes will remain on campus. A few months ago, due to increased enrollment of SBU and OLLI students, it was proposed by university representatives that some OLLI classes be held off campus and members were told they could no longer park in the lot reserved for staff and faculty.

“There are some questions. So, I think there’s room for tweaking here.”

— John Gobler

Judith Greiman, chief deputy to SBU president and senior vice president for government and community relations, said while all classes will be held on campus, they will only be scheduled Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays instead of every weekday. Class duration will also be changing from 75 minutes to 60. OLLI students will be required to use the metered parking lots where they will need a hang tag, so they won’t have to put coins in the meters. The new parking arrangement will mean an added $75 in OLLI fees per semester.

The changes came after complaints from members and several meetings with Greiman, SBU community relations director Joan Dickinson and OLLI representatives, according to past OLLI president Robert Mirman. He said both sides had to bend a little.

“It’s understandable that the students of the university have priority, and they’re growing, there’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Mirman said. “But the majority of our members, the feedback that we got, was that they would prefer to be on campus.”

Workshop leader John Gobler said he believes the new plans are an improvement over initially proposed ideas, but said he and other members feel issues still exist. The new schedule has an hour break between classes, which will cause a good amount of downtime for those who take more than one course a day. He said at the June 27 meeting, members complained about the additional $75 a semester fee. Not everyone brings their car since they carpool, others need to park in handicap spots at the university and metered parking is limited, according to Gobler. Mirman said overall the $75 additional fee per semester will be less expensive than using the meters.

“The misperception, on the part of some, was that somehow the university didn’t want people on campus.”

—Judith Greiman

“We do have the support of the university, and they’re trying to help us, I’m sure,” Gobler said. “There are some questions. So, I think there’s room for tweaking here.”

Gobler also has concerns about equipment since classes will be offered solely in the Charles B. Wang Center, Student Activity Center and Social & Behavioral Sciences building, where the rooms don’t have the same technology equipment as other buildings. The one benefit of OLLI classes taking place in the three buildings instead of various buildings is OLLI members will know where their class location is as soon as they register. In the past, they had to wait until SBU
students completed registration to know where a class was going to be held.

Dickinson said current discussions with OLLI representatives has led to helping members become more involved with volunteer and community opportunities. She said many didn’t realize there were university events they could take part in like an international science competition where members can meet with the participating students and see their projects. She said many agencies in the community reach out to SBU and ask for help with reading to local students, musical performances, hosting campus tours and more. Those same volunteer opportunities will exist for OLLI members.

“Those kinds of connections and becoming more a part of the campus will be there,” Dickinson said.

Greiman said the university is happy to work with OLLI.

“The misperception, on the part of some, was that somehow the university didn’t want people on campus,” Greiman said. “In fact, we very strongly support the program and see the OLLI members as ambassadors and as part of the Stony Brook family.”