Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.
— Henry Ford
The Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI), founded in 2007 by Lyn Mayo, has grown to include 36 courses a year and more than 300 members, with several learning sites throughout New Paltz. Dedicated to enriching the mind, soul and body of adult learners 55 years of age and older, LLI is an all-volunteer organization and brings in dozens of experts, professors and educators to teach a wide variety of courses, from yoga and chemistry to Shakespeare, birdwatching, Photoshopping and everything in between.
“This is an incredible organization,” said current president Terry Scott, who presided over the annual Volunteer Appreciation reception this past Wednesday at the Terrace Restaurant, located on the SUNY New Paltz campus where LLI was born and continues to hold courses and get the college’s support. “We have an outstanding group of instructors as well as members. I used to pride myself in graduate school as being one of the brightest people in the room. Not here!” she said with a laugh. “During my first history course with LLI, I thought to myself, ‘I hope I can keep up with this group. They’re all brilliant!’”
For $115 a year — the annual cost of membership — you can take as many courses as you choose, as long as you can get into them. “I do the catalogue, and these courses fill up so quickly,” said Joe Tantillo, the chair of publicity for LLI, as well as an instructor who taught Photoshopping this past year. “Our members understand that now, and the moment the courses are announced, they know to sign up immediately, or else they won’t get in.”
Scott said that she really had no idea “how large the organization was until I became president. Most for-profit companies don’t run this well. Our volunteer instructors not only meet our expectations, in most cases they exceed them.”
She said that she decided to join LLI after her husband passed away. “I was suddenly alone, and thought that I needed to get out and to stay active. So I signed up for a couple of art courses, which I greatly enjoyed, and then some history courses. And I continue to be in awe, not only of the level of expertise from the various instructors, but by my fellow classmates.”
Gail Picciati is an active member of LLI, and said that her experience has been “wonderful! I have a BFA that I haven’t used, and so I took as many art courses as I could to refresh my skills.” She said that she had never been proficient in watercolor, and welcomed the opportunity to take a watercolor course taught by Natalie Minewski, as well as creative writing courses and “any history course that is taught by Joe Britto…. I think he had the largest class this year,” added Tantillo.
“People love his courses, it doesn’t matter what the subject is,” said Picciati. “He doesn’t use notes; he’s off-the-cuff, and can be, because his knowledge is so great. He doesn’t treat us like typical students, because we’re not typical students, and his personality and his subject matter is so engaging.”
Both Scott and Picciati also spoke to the social aspect of LLI, where they get to know and form friendships with their classmates outside of the courses.
Fonda Rothblatt, who volunteers for the Curriculum Committee, said that she took “‘The American Jewish Experience,’ taught by Gerry Sorin, who is phenomenal — so knowledgeable, but also with an incredible sense of humor. I want to take the course again!” she said with a laugh. As for LLI, Rothblatt said that it “attracts people who have a desire to learn, who are inquisitive and have a passion to live life to its fullest and are open to new experiences. Those are the kind of people I want to be around!”
There was a delicious brunch, and President Scott thanked all of the past presidents and instructors, as well as this year’s dozens of instructors, for the tireless work, energy, enthusiasm and expertise that they bring to their courses and their students.
The courses take place through many host sites, like SUNY New Paltz and the New Paltz Community Center, Woodland Ponds, the Reformed Church Education Building and the St. Joseph’s Church Education Building. The fall semester catalogue comes out in September, and the spring semester catalogue in January. To learn more, visit www.newpaltz.edu/lifetime/index.html.