June 12, 2021

The History of Lifetime Learning Institute 

Brief History

(1977 to present)

Lifetime Learning (then Austin ILL) started in 1977 with an enrollment of 173 students and 8 teachers. This extraordinary endeavor stemmed from the experience of three teachers: Catherine Goodwin, the Rev. Walter Pilgrim, and Lillian Warren, who participated in an Austin Community College (ACC) program for adults that lasted only one year, ending in 1976.

Learning of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)’s Institute of Lifetime Learning (ILL), the Rev. Pilgrim, with enthusiastic local support, obtained the necessary information and guidance to establish such a program in Austin.

On June 21, 1977, a charter was issued by AARP to the Institute of Lifetime Learning of Austin, the 52nd such charter in the United States.

The supporting group elected an executive committee composed of Catherine Goodwin, Irene St. Clair, Eleanora Simmons, Wilbur Hurt, Mac Payne, and Travis Williamson, with the Rev. Pilgrim as Director.

In 1983, ILL of Austin separated from AARP and became Lifetime Learning Institute (LLI) of Austin, the program now in operation.

Over the years, 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). In the Spring of 2008, LLI began renting space for their office at the Lamar Towers in North Austin.

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. Forty 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.

Students experience courses with optional homework, no disciplinary problems, no exams, intermissions in most two-hour sessions, and classes of students who choose to be there!

LLI teachers, many with advanced degrees, prepare curricula and teach their classes for pleasure, with only a small honorarium.

Opportunities abound in various locations in the city at churches, recreation/activity facilities and retirement centers that participate with the Lifetime Learning Institute (LLI) volunteers to bring Austin seniors a large array of diverse classes with places to go, new things to learn, and people to meet.

With increasing costs of printing, postage, rent, and miscellaneous expenses, the registration fee may grow, but LLI strives to keep it affordable so that anyone on a fixed income can participate. We also offer a number of fee waivers each semester for those who request it.

These low fees are possible because the Institute is blessed with a cadre of volunteers and helpers without whom the program could not function. Each semester, volunteer leaders and their helpers participate in curriculum development that results in the delivery of the quality courses for which LLI is famous. Our catalog, course listing mailers, forms, schedules, and notices are developed for printing and distribution. Volunteers manage our website. Recent adoption of an online registration program has greatly simplified and expedited registration and payment of our low course fees.

The first semester of “Austin ILL” 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. In recent times, LLI makes 70-80 courses available to over 1000 registrants each semester, now at $30/course, are intentionally affordable. No wonder LLI claims to be “the best bargain in town!”