History of The Institute for Learning in Retirement of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida


When the University of Florida envisioned the creation of a CCRC affiliated with the university, they felt it would be a perfect venue to empower the community’s residents to continue learning, to expand their horizons, and to enhance their personal development. Since it was important to have the lifelong learning program in place when the first members moved in, Oak Hammock had the forethought to call upon the Gainesville community to be the base to start the Institute for Learning in Retirement.

Oak Hammock, in partnership with the UF Institute on Aging, began planning the Institute for Learning in Retirement in 2001. Since Elderhostel, now the Road Scholar Institute, already had an international network of lifelong learning programs that also provided the guidelines for starting up a program, they were contacted and we established our institute using their format for programs offered, the cost to the learner, and financial information. The next phase required establishing a working group made up of OH depositors and Gainesville community members.

This was achieved by inviting a targeted area of seniors to an informational meeting at the Haile Plantation Village clubhouse. This working group, which evolved into the Advisory Council of Advisors, basically designed the ILR and put together the first semester of operation.( They also addressed specific issues of curriculum, funding, marketing, membership solicitation, classroom space, membership fees, by-laws, and other logistics. Some of the primary goals of this group were to correspond with and visit other ILRs; make decisions on the nature/mission of the ILR; develop a governance structure; develop a working budget for the first year; formalize a relationship with the University of Florida; select the initial program topics/courses; recruit potential course leaders; set fees/charges; design a program brochure; and spread the word about the organization. The first chairman was Helen Rothschild, supported by future Oak Hammock members Nancy Green and Jim Piety. In 2004 with the adoption of the by-laws, the Advisory Council was renamed the 1LR Board of Directors.

Early programs included a book club, religion, world affairs, and instruction on writing autobiographical material. Estelle Aden, retired humanities professor, started a series on theatre and drama. With 50 to 75 members in the organization, classes were held wherever there was an available room around town: the Harn Museum, United Church of Gainesville, Trinity Methodist, Hospice, and the Oak Hammock Marketing Office on SW 34th Street. In March of 2004 when Oak Hammock opened its doors, all the classes began meeting at Oak Hammock.

Oak Hammock and ILR have a symbiotic relationship, in which both organizations benefit. ILR gives Oak Hammock a powerful marketing tool in resident opportunity for intellectual stimulation, while Oak Hammock provides ILR with classroom space, outstanding meal catering, and staff support free of charge. The ILR does not have corporate status. It functions under the corporate umbrella of Oak Hammock, a 503(C) not-for profit organization.

Charles Sidman, former UF Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was recruited as Curriculum Committee Chair in 2004. Dr. Sidman was instrumental in expanding the membership and the role of the Curriculum Committee. He broadened the scope of the courses offered by inviting University faculty to speak on their research within a field. Most faculty are enthusiastic about the opportunity to lecture to ILR, without compensation, because of the responsiveness of the audience. Many of our speakers are world leaders in their fields.

When Walter Kalaf joined the committee and became chair in 2006, he reorganized the Curriculum Committee into two subcommittees, Humanities and Science, Technology and Medicine. The two groups now organize courses with greater academic depth over a wider variety of subjects, from opera, global issues, politics, to literature. Committee members serve a staggered three-year term, allowing an orderly transition and the recruitment of new members with fresh insight and ideas.

In recent years, an average of 16 courses has been offered each of the three terms per academic year. The annual membership fee is $20 and the fee for a standard course of six to seven lectures is $10. In return, members enjoy not only stimulating lectures and discussions but also a wine and cheese preview reception just before the beginning of each term. Lecturers are invited to an semi-annual Appreciation Dinner as well as offered lunch before or after their lectures.

In 2004, the ILR supported the UF Center for Gerontology Studies by partnering with them in providing a monetary award to the students who were runners-up to the Cluff Award winners. An undergraduate and a graduate student are selected to receive the ILR Award. After the Center was closed in 2006, the UF Institute on Aging has continued this partnership for this award.

With the help of the Institute on Aging, the ILR created the Outstanding Mentor Award in 2009. This award recognized the outstanding UF faculty mentor in the field of aging.

The ILR also jumped into the digital world in 2009 with establishing the ILR website (now ilr352.0rg). The website features news and events, class bulletins and registration opportunity, among other things.

The ILR sponsored Student Symposium began in March of 2011. This was a joint effort with the Institute on Aging where twelve students are selected to present their research papers at Oak Hammock. The top three students receive a monetary award from the ILR. The approach was changed and expanded in 2012 to an exposition format with posters/displays on topics related to aging. Top rated posters receive awards. Three ILR members serve as judges. Recently a similar program has been established with Santa Fe College to showcase student research products.

Since 2004, ILR has contributed over $48,000 in gifts/items to Oak Hammock. The list includes a grand piano, AV and sound equipment in the Multi-purpose Room, microphones for the Oak Room, Oak Room chairs, cabinets in the Acorn Room for the opera class DVDs, LCD projector for the Oak Room, and an upgraded projection screen in the Oak Room.

The ILR continues to be the vibrant community of retirees engaged in lifelong learning that was envisioned with programs dedicated to the growth and fulfillment of all participants. The Institute for Learning in Retirement of Oak Hammock was recognized in 2010 by Clifton Larson Allen LLP as the number one lifelong learning institute connected with a CCRC in the nation. A recognition that the Institute of Learning in Retirement is very proud to have received.