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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU's Institute of Learning in Retirement Keeps Its Members Engaged With Education, Community and Each Other

By Betsy Hnath

"Education is not preparation for life; it is life itself," American philosopher and educator John Dewey once said. If so, the members of Old Dominion University's Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) are living their lives to the fullest.

The organization, planned and operated by and for active retired adults, provides classes, social opportunity and travel for individuals 55 and over.

ILR's are available in communities across the country.

ODU's is one of over 300 in the Road Scholar Institute Network and is also one of the largest ILR's in Virginia.

While a typical ILR group lasts just seven years, the ODU ILR has steadily grown since it began in 1993, when it offered four classes to 15 interested participants.

As of January 2018, the organization counted well over 900 regular members. Each calendar quarter it offers 20 to 25 courses planned by a curriculum committee.

ODU belongs to the Road Scholar Institute Network. is one of more than 300 like it affiliated with the Road Scholar Institute Network, which one of more than 300 nationwide. Old Dominion's is one of the largest in Virginia.

Classes are usually two-hour lectures about topics of interest to the members - everything from financial planning to herbal gardening. They are taught by faculty at ODU and other colleges and universities, as well as local experts and ILR members.

Members pay a $20 annual fee and $10 per class.

Aside from classes, ILR members have taken day trips to such sites as the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center and the Virginia Zoo. They've also gone canoeing and kayaking and taken overnight trips to destinations like the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Carolyn Schmick, ILR vice president and newsletter editor, knows how valuable the organization can be to members of the senior community.

"The first year I moved from New York to Virginia Beach, I was invited on an ILR trip because there was a last-minute cancellation. By the time we got home that night, I was asked to be the newsletter editor. I accepted and joined the ILR the next day. It was the smartest move I made," Schmick said. "I met other seniors, found a way to contribute to a significantly worthwhile organization and enjoyed the choices of classes, social events and trips."

Service is a priority for the ILR. Each holiday season, members volunteer to assist the Salvation Army with its Toys for Tots and holiday gift programs.

Some of the money raised from annual and class fees helps fund an annual ILR scholarship, awarded to an ODU student. The recipient can be of any age but must be pursuing a graduate degree.

Winners receive $2,000 per semester for a total of $8,000 over a two-year period.

Nevin Mapp used her 2015 ILR scholarship toward her master's degree in international studies.

In a letter to the ILR, Mapp thanked the organization for its support.

"I have had an extremely rewarding experience because of your organization's commitment to lifetime learning. Pursuing a graduate degree has been both challenging and exciting," Mapp wrote. "I learned a great deal about international studies as well as myself. I had to balance life, work and my time. Through all of this, however, I learned more about commitment, patience, and perseverance. Thank you for helping me reach my educational goals. This whole experience has been amazing."

The Old Dominion ILR shows no sign of slowing, as more in the community become aware of what it has to offer.

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