A Brief History (1977 to present)                         [Pictures]

Imagine a school with optional homework, no disciplinary problems, no exams, with breaks midway in most two-hour sessions, and classes of students who choose to be there. Imagine teachers, many with advanced degrees, preparing curricula and teaching their classes for pleasure, with only a small honorarium.

Such a school, starting in 1977 with an enrollment of 173 students and 8 teachers, is the Lifetime Learning Institute of Austin, which now offers more than 50 courses to about 1,000 registrants each semester.

This extraordinary endeavor stemmed from the experience of three teachers participating in an Austin Community College program for adults which lasted only one year and was terminated in 1976. These teachers were Catherine Goodwin, the Rev. Walter Pilgrim, and Lillian Warren. In operation at the same time was a program of learning for older adults known as the Institute of Lifetime Learning, sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons. The Rev. Pilgrim, with enthusiastic local support, obtained the necessary information and guidance for establishment of such a program in Austin. On June 21, 1977, a charter was issued by AARP to the Lifetime Learning Institute of Austin, the 52nd such charter in the United States.

An executive committee was elected by the supporting group. It soon designated the Rev. Pilgrim as Director. Two years later, LLI of Austin was given its independence from AARP. LLI has progressed rapidly as an independent, nonprofit, tax-exempt, nondiscriminatory, nonpolitical organization.

The first session of the Austin LLI began October 3, 1977, with an eight-week schedule of eight classes meeting two hours a week. The fee was $5 per course; the teacher’s honorarium was $50. The second session was held the following Spring. This same policy of offering Spring and Fall courses has continued.

With increased costs of such items as printing, postage, supplies, and miscellaneous expenses, the registration fee has grown, but efforts are always made to keep the fee as low as possible. A small honorarium is given to the instructors each semester, again not equal to their expertise and interest.

Remarkably, the administration of the Institute has been accomplished through the efforts of an all volunteer executive committee composed of the director, associate director, immediate past director, secretary, treasurer, and six coordinators - program, administrative, site, teacher aides, publicity, and equipment. They function under direction of an Advisory Council consisting of representatives of the students, the faculty, and the public at large, all enthusiastic supporters and leaders. The first executive committee was composed of the Rev. Pilgrim, Catherine Goodwin, Irene St. Clair, Eleanora Simmons, Wilbur Hurt, Mac Payne, and Travis Williamson.

In addition to the Advisory Council, the Institute is blessed with a cadre of volunteers without whom the program would founder. Before any class begins, hundreds of registration forms must be organized and records made. This requires a large office staff and appointment of a teacher aide for each class. All these forms, schedules, and notices must be developed and computerized before the printer can produce the schedules. The additional wonder is that each year more and more participants in the classroom courses volunteer to help with the operational needs.

For every class, of course, there must be a classroom. Many churches, recreation centers, and retirement facilities have generously donated space for classes to be held. At present, classes meet in more than 26 sites contributed mainly by churches but also by community-minded organizations and senior centers, some of them enthusiastic hosts for many years.

In the Spring of 2008 the LLI office moved to the Lamar Towers in North Austin. Over the years, office space has been provided by the Rev. and Mrs. Pilgrim in their home (June 1977 to 1978), the Governor’s Committee on Aging (June to October 1978), Austin Parks and Recreation Department (April 1979 to January 1980), Austin Community College (January 1980 to August 1986), and Concordia University at Austin (August 1986 to 2008) until the campus was relocated.

From the beginning, courses were designed to meet the interest and needs of older adults. The first term of eight classes included law for seniors, Texas history, creative writing, needlecraft, Spanish, painting, genealogy, and philosophy. Thirty years later, the expanded program includes classes in the fields of business, science, health, language, art, literature, music, and history. Every year, new courses are introduced and some are retired.

Each year it becomes more obvious that older adults are increasingly interested in expanding their horizons, especially their intellectual horizons. The Lifetime Learning Institute provides opportunities for developing and improving learning opportunities for Austin seniors.

This community service provided to the citizens of Austin at such an affordable rate keeps LLI classes “the best bargain in town.”