Opinion Extra

Finally, Columbia has a lifelong learning program for seniors

Christiane DeSouza,middle, joins other seniors as they take part in a Zumba Toning class at the Lourie Center in Columbia’s Maxcy Gregg Park, Monday, June 15, 2015. DeSouza says she attends every Monday.
Christiane DeSouza,middle, joins other seniors as they take part in a Zumba Toning class at the Lourie Center in Columbia’s Maxcy Gregg Park, Monday, June 15, 2015. DeSouza says she attends every Monday. The State file photo

When I was co-authoring “Next Steps,” a nationally syndicated newspaper column about aging and retirement, we told our readers that cognitive decline begins in our 60s and becomes more prevalent in our 70s and 80s. The best way to prevent that downward slope as birthdays pile up? Regular exercise, social interaction with friends and family, and intellectual stimulation.

Exercise and social interaction I could handle on my own. But once I reached age 60, and especially after I retired from full-time work, I began to cast about for additional sources of intellectual stimulation.

Every place I had ever lived before moving to Columbia had a comprehensive, robust, university-affiliated program for lifelong learning that helped seniors thrive. But nothing like that existed in Columbia, although other South Carolina cities such as Clemson, Greenville, Beaufort, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach did — and still do.

Why not, I wondered? Columbia is the state capital and home to the state’s flagship university, as well as to thousands of military and civilian retirees. Moreover, something like 30 percent of Columbia-area residents are over age 50.

Retirees continue to arrive in the Palmetto State, and they’re settling not only on the coast and in the mountains. They are also coming to Columbia for its golf, rivers, 12-mile greenway and considerably cheaper housing, food, rent and restaurant prices as compared with, say, Charleston and Greenville. (Perhaps they have also read the CNN Money article naming Columbia one of the country’s 25 Best Places to Retire.)

Many retirees in Columbia, I thought, would embrace lifelong learning and want to thrive in life’s second half. Golf and sleeping-in gets boring after a while.

So, I was excited to hear that the Lourie Center in downtown Columbia is launching a new Midlands Lifelong Learning Program this October. Academics and professionals from the community will offer weekly classes, for four-week sessions, on a range of topics from within the arts and sciences. There will be no prerequisites, no homework, no exams.

It’s an exciting first step in creating a larger, intellectually stimulating lifelong learning program in the Columbia area. Organizers hope to expand the number and scope of classes in the future.

The program’s steering committee consists of deans and administrators from the University of South Carolina, Midlands Technical College, the Columbia Opera Society, business associations, South Carolina ETV and other nonprofits.

Veterans Administration counseling psychologist Sandra Poliakoff and retired USC professor Sondra Berger, two of the program’s founders, say the initial response to the venture has been enthusiastic. Next step: They hope local institutions of higher learning will partner with them.

Why shouldn’t they? Not only would such a partnership bolster the college or university’s educational mission, it would also create for them loyal financial donors. (Lifelong learning institutes in other cities and states say that seniors involved in their programs are so enthusiastic that they often become regular – and generous – campus donors.)

The inaugural courses are titled “Diseases of Famous People,” “Classically Columbia: Musical Understanding,” “Cyber Security” and “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Your Life, Your Future” after age 60.

Fees for each class are: full Lourie Center members, $10; associate members, $20; and nonmembers, $30. Registration deadline is Sept. 28. Register or download a brochure at www.louriecentersc.com/midlandslifelonglearning, or register by calling 803-779-1971.

Ms. Collins serves on the steering committee of the Lourie program; contact her at jankcollins@gmail.com.