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Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

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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.

OLLI members during a tour of SBU on Aug. 31. Photo from OLLI

Joining children and college students across the Island going back to school to study, adult learners also returned to a local campus on Sept. 6.

OLLI members returned to in-person workshops on Sept. 6. Photo from OLLI

After five semesters, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s members have returned to the Stony Brook University campus. The program, better known as OLLI, offers a variety of noncredit workshops designed to appeal to people over 50. During the spring semester of 2020, OLLI switched to virtual workshops via Zoom due to COVID-19 shutdowns. The program this fall will once again offer in-person workshops, as well as virtual and hybrid options.

Breanne Delligatti, OLLI at SBU program director, said members had the opportunity to attend an orientation on Aug. 31. More than 100 people were in attendance. This semester there will be more than 600 learners with over 100 courses, lectures and events planned.

Jane Cash, curriculum committee co-chair and workshop leader, described the orientation as extraordinary. A recently retired nurse, she joined OLLI during the pandemic and has only attended via Zoom.

“To see more than people’s heads and shoulders, and to meet them in person, it was really lovely,” Cash said.

Ella Nyc, executive council president, said it was also exciting to see people return who decided not to participate via Zoom either due to lack of technical savviness or proper equipment. 

“They’re still coming back and returning and so excited to be back on campus again,” Nyc said.

While it was good to see each other in person again, Karen DiPaola, curriculum committee co-chair and workshop leader, a member since 2017, said it was amazing how the workshops were quickly made available on Zoom in 2020 considering it was something that couldn’t be anticipated. She took several workshops via the platform.

“It was almost like having them in your room, and now to see them again in person at the orientation was just a delight,” DiPaola said.

Delligatti said they were one of the first Osher institutes to be fully operational with virtual learning. Before the pandemic, virtual workshops were not offered.

OLLI members attend an orientation at SBU on Aug. 31. Photo from OLLI

“Within two weeks of leaving the campus, we had over 50 workshops converted to virtual on Zoom, and that remained and increased every semester for the subsequent five semesters that came,” Delligatti said.

After the Aug. 31 orientation, held in the theater at the univesity’s Charles B. Wang Center, SBU students led the OLLI members on a tour of the more popular spots on campus and where workshops will take place. They also showed the adult learners where they could relax between their workshops.

Delligatti said the members then headed to the computer lab at Research & Development Park where OLLI learners will have access to new computers. The SBU students helped OLLI members set up their credentials to get on Wi-Fi, something members may need if they decide to participate in a virtual workshop while on campus.

Nyc said she is looking forward to members interacting in person again, especially in discussion workshops.

“It’s difficult to have a discussion when you have to wait to be recognized in the waiting room, it’s going to be so much better,” she said. “It’s more impromptu, it’s more fun.”

DiPaola said there were some workshops they could not do remotely, such as ones about board games. She added she enjoys walking between workshops and getting a bite at the cafeteria on campus.

“I also love about OLLI that it’s a place on a college campus, and it’s very energizing to see all of the young students,” DiPaola said.

Cash said it’s interesting meeting people who you have not met otherwise.

“You pass people in the supermarket, and you don’t know anything about them except how they look, but when you get to know them as people and see them as people with great experience and expertise and charming also, I think that’s the beauty of OLLI.”

According to Delligatti, OLLI members raised more than $50,000 over the last couple of years which enabled the program to outfit two classrooms at SBU with new equipment for the members to use.

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

Despite a rocky start to the past fall semester, members of an adult continuing education program persist in improving their lot with Stony Brook University.

“We are confident that as we move into next year, we will see an increase in new members and with returning members.”

— Diane Perillo

In January, SBU administrators invited members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a program that offers workshops, lectures and activities to retired and semiretired individuals, to participate in focus groups to provide feedback on changes SBU implemented to the program during the fall semester of 2018. The changes included OLLI classes on campus being held only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays instead of every day; class duration changing from 75 minutes to 60; and OLLI students using metered parking lots on campus instead of parking in a designated area.

While members received hang tags so they wouldn’t have to put coins in the meters, they were charged an additional $75 in OLLI fees per semester for the new parking agreement. The changes led to approximately 400 past members declining to enroll in the fall of 2018.

Diane Perillo, director of finance and administration for the School of Professional Development, which oversees OLLI, said during the January focus groups, SBU administrators received positive feedback from OLLI members about the previous semester that she described as a pilot plan, and she is confident the program will grow. The School of Professional Development also surveyed members to gather their thoughts about the changes, and the director said the current program members helped provide insight on how to move forward.

“Overall members were happy with the parking that was made available to them,” Perillo said. “Membership meetings have been extremely positive, the new leadership within the School of Professional Development has been sharing information with members and, when possible, acting on requests and communicating changes to the membership.”

Perillo said there was a decline in enrollment in the fall, which was expected, and the 400 members who did not return were also surveyed. She said some did not return for workshops due to illness or having a loved one who was sick. Others reported they only attended Tuesday and Thursday in the past.

“I have already run into some people who said they are coming back.”

— John Gobler

Peter Stubberfield, in an email to The Village Times Herald, said he was one of the 400 who didn’t return to the OLLI workshops this fall due to the parking fee and reduction of class time, and he said he didn’t receive a survey from the university asking him why he didn’t continue with the program.

Perillo said new and past members have the option to sign up for OLLI workshops in the spring for $162.50 with a parking fee of $75, which is half of the yearly rate. As a rule, OLLI does not offer prorated memberships. She said spring workshops would once again be 75 minutes, and the break between classes will be reduced. While workshops are only held on campus Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the director said there are off-campus classes held Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We have seen a slight increase in membership this spring,” she said. “We are confident that as we move into next year, we will see an increase in new members and with returning members.”

John Gobler, one of the workshop leaders, said he attended one of the focus groups, and he was pleased that SBU’s administration acknowledged the drop in membership. He added that while the fall semester was rocky, he is positive about the future of OLLI.

“I know there are people coming back,” he said. “I have already run into some people who said they are coming back,” adding they told him they heard from others the program was getting better.

Sue Parlatore, a member of OLLI’s advisory board, said at first members who signed up for the fall were worried about the changes, especially parking; however, she said the university accommodated them. She said she and others found the hour between classes was too much time and were happy to hear the time has been reduced to 30 minutes.

“The university, in my opinion, they really do seem to be trying their best to make it work for us,” Parlatore said, adding that she feels the rumor that SBU does not welcome them is unfounded.

She said those who didn’t enroll again in the fall should consider coming back.

“I would encourage anybody to try it,” she said. “I think they would be very pleasantly surprised.”

Perillo is also optimistic.

“I am confident that as a community we will be able to work out a plan for fall 2019 and spring 2020 that we will re-inspire members to return and bring back their workshops,” she said. “If members choose not to return, I am confident that our current and new members will offer engaging, community-based noncredit workshops that will enable Stony Brook University’s OLLI program to continue to flourish.”

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.”

SBU program for retirees is unique on Long Island

File Photo

A substantial gift from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will extend Stony Brook University’s ability to offer opportunities to individuals who are semi-retired or retired.

Originally founded at the university as The Round Table, the program was renamed after receiving an initial grant from the Osher Foundation in June 2007.

A program within the School of Professional Development, directed by Wayne Holo, OLLI is open to mature adults interested in expanding their intellectual horizons in a university setting. Volunteers — very often experts in the subjects they teach — teach peer-taught sessions, which carry no credits or prerequisites. Workshops are structured to offer an informal exchange of ideas among participants.

Osher Foundation President Mary Bitterman found the Stony Brook OLLI’s progress to be inspiring.

“Since making [the] initial grant, we have been impressed by [the program’s] exceptional progress,” she said. “We applaud the collective effort and achievement of its excellent staff and its dynamic community of intellectually vigorous members. We also salute the university’s leadership for its steadfast support of the Osher Institute and for embracing the concept that education is a lifelong pursuit that has the power to forge and enhance our connection to one another and to a larger world.”

Retired schoolteacher Bruce Stasiuk, of Setauket, is one of the more popular workshop leaders in the program and his philosophy may indicate why.

“The ingenious OLLI program is like going back to school without the pressures, or papers,” he said. “Here, required courses and tests went the way of Clearasil. OLLI is all about pursuing interests, keeping active, and continuing personal growth. It’s the purest form of education — it’s fun.”

Martin and Joyce Rubenstein of Port Jefferson Station would agree. Marty Rubenstein has been a participant for nearly two decades; Joyce Rubenstein almost as long. Both have taken classes, and Marty Rubenstein has taught quite a few, ranging from physics for poets to classes in his special passion, music appreciation, including history of the big band era and history of rock and roll.

“I started soon after retirement, about 1998,” Marty Rubenstein said. “It’s a well-run program and a good vehicle for people who are retired.” He added that one’s social network disappears when you no longer see the colleagues and friends you worked with daily.

It was still The Round Table, comprised of 300 members when Rubenstein joined, and he has watched the organization grow. He said he is hoping that the new funding will make it possible to improve the model, now that there are more than 1,000 members.

Joyce Rubenstein, a participant since 2000, says she likes the variety of classes offered.

“It’s nice because I don’t have to take academic courses unless I want to. You go in and you laugh. I enjoy it. I’ve made a lot of new friends,” she said, adding, “There are some extremely smart people there. You learn a lot just by listening.”

The Rubensteins shared their OLLI experiences with Bonnie and Norm Samuels of Setauket, who take classes, too.

“It’s great OLLI has received this endowment because the program has grown so much and so many people are now involved,” Bonnie Samuels said.

Norm Samuels is a newbie, taking classes for the first time this fall. He sad he is finding his DNA class stimulating.

“It opens your mind up to more in-depth examination of ideas,“ he said. “What I’ve learned about future uses of DNA — I think it’s going to shake us to our foundations! Being on campus, seeing the young people gives me vicarious pleasure. What I’d like to see is more integration between the young ones and us elders.”

Bonnie Samuels said opportunities of that sort do come up. OLLI members were recruited this semester to be audience members for a Talking Science class for undergraduate students. The goal was to listen and give feedback to young scientists to help them become clearer communicators when addressing nonscientists.

OLLI membership is open for an annual fee to all retired and semiretired individuals. The program currently offers more than 100 workshops per semester, and a variety of day trips. Avenues for participation include workshops, lectures, special events, committees and social activities. OLLI classes include topics in history, creative arts, science, literature and computer skills; fall classes included intermediate Latin, history of England, quantum weirdness, poetry out loud, senior legal matters and a virtual investing club.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes operate on the campuses of 119 institutions of higher education throughout the nation. Stony Brook’s OLLI program is the only such program on Long Island.

For more information, go to the Stony Brook University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute website or call 631-632-7063.

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Do you ever feel lonely? I’m not referring to an occasional time period when you might acutely feel alone. After awhile that loneliness passes as you get busy with making dinner or driving out purposefully to go food shopping. I’m talking about deep-seated, unremitting loneliness, where a person doesn’t leave his or her house most of the time and doesn’t think to call a friend. Perhaps the person is quite elderly and has outlived friends. Or perhaps that person struggles with depression and keeps to himself or herself, exacerbating the loneliness.

From what I have read lately, loneliness is not a good thing for one’s health. Indeed one of the recommendations for longevity is an active social circle. Whatever the age, loners in our society come to be suspect. People need to socialize and interact, or so the thinking goes.

There are statistics that correlate good health with a satisfying social life, particularly as we age. For some, this is easy. If a person is naturally outgoing, the fact that the world is filled with other people presents its own solution. One can get a part-time job, even if retired, and that usually brings along its own social structure, plus a few extra bucks. Sometimes part-time work isn’t so easy to find, but there are always groups that are grateful for a volunteer: hospitals, schools, churches, even businesses. We are forever running a classified ad asking for volunteers who might find it interesting and fun to work at a hometown newspaper, and we are seldom without someone, usually someone wonderful.

Because we live on an island that has many colleges and universities, there are always academic opportunities to avail oneself of, like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — formerly known as the Round Table — at Stony Brook University. There are a great variety of courses, including subjects one might have always wondered about but have been too busy to pursue.

Another source of learning and information is the neighborhood library, many of which offer courses, from understanding opera to understanding computers, at a nominal fee. By enrolling in some interest group or subject, one is likely to meet others with the same interests and perhaps strike up a friendship. At the very least, one can become a little smarter or at least a bit more knowledgeable.

That’s just a few social possibilities. But they require active seeking, and not everyone is blithely outgoing and comfortable in new situations. So what then?

My husband was shy pretty much all his life, but he discovered a way for the world to reach out to him. When he wasn’t working, he loved to take pictures. Behind the camera, he could be bold and interact with anyone who might be doing something that interested him. We ran many of his photographs in the newspaper, and readers appreciated the sense of place that the pictures conveyed and also contacted him with comments.

Eventually he was even invited by an art gallery to put up an exhibit of some of his favorite photos. I don’t have to tell you how he loved that and appreciated the feedback from the viewers. Now granted, not everyone has a wife with a newspaper, but it is my experience that most hometown newspapers will eagerly accept photos if they are reasonably good — and free.

Again, though, that sort of hobby takes a certain amount of initiative. Fortunately we live at a time when the need to reach out to those who may be struggling with loneliness has eventuated in a number of help groups, especially in Britain. There are centers in the U.K. manned by people, sometimes volunteers, who are there to lend a kind ear to those who call in to chat. The volunteers provide a valuable service in what has come to be seen as a public health issue. Sometimes these are trained and paid workers. Even fire brigades have been trained to recognize signs of isolation during their fire inspections. We should be sensitive to this most human need and do no less here.