How ILR Began

In 1989, 40 Greater New Haven retirees decided to commit themselves to creating their own “mini-university.” They were inspired to do so by ElderHostel (now Roads Scholar), a non-profit organization that originated at the University of New Hampshire whose purpose was to provide affordable travel that emphasized learning opportunities.

ElderHostel visited cities in the U.S. and invited those who had traveled with them to set up their own on-site learning opportunities. Officers of the fledgling New Haven group were Joe Alterman (president), Ken Robinson (vice-president), Bernie Dumoff (treasurer-an also registrar as well as newsletter and catalog editor), and Genie Deutsch. (secretary).  There were initially 14 members on the Board of Governors.

This group created by-laws and articulated their mission. All agreed that there would be no entry requirements – you didn’t have to have gone to college or even graduated from high school to join.  They decided to set fees low so that even those on modest fixed-incomes could afford to belong and take courses. They agreed that they would all volunteer their time and talents so that no money need be spent on salaries.

They also agreed that classes (which they called “Study Groups”) would be interactive so that those taking part could share their own life experiences where they were relevant to the topic. Classes would be offered in the form of spring and fall semesters, each about 10 weeks long, and they would be held only during weekdays.

They then wrote to New Haven-area colleges and universities asking if they would be willing to allow what they called “The Institute for Learning in Retirement” to use their unoccupied classrooms without charge so that they could pursue what is now known as “lifelong learning.”

Albertus Magnus College, Southern Connecticut State University and what was then Quinnipiac College said “by all means.” It was not long before it became obvious they would be needing an increasing number of classrooms and an office for their administrative use. Albertus Magnus College, regarding it as a community-service opportunity, offered use of classrooms and a small office in their main classroom building, Aquinas Hall. As a result, our ILR became officially known as “The Institute for Learning in Retirement at Albertus Magnus College.”

Today we are a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity with an “Inc.” in our name.

ILR’s first classes were held in the spring of 1990. Four courses were offered and all 40 founders took them all. They were “Everyday Psychology,” “Computers for Seniors,” Current Events and "Writing for Pleasure and Publication". Four people volunteered to be the Study Group Leaders for those courses with the understanding that a Study Group Leader’s  avid interest in learning a particular subject  could sometimes be substituted for academic higher degrees – in other words, the SGLs would be learning as well as leading. The result was a lively atmosphere and the development of many enduring friendships among students, Study Group Leaders and administrative volunteers.

Having a connection with Albertus Magnus College helped the fledgling group to recruit more Study Group Leaders from faculty and emeritus PhD’s at neighboring schools. These professors discovered they enjoyed the enthusiasm and interest of those who took part in the Study Groups. As a result, many of them having led one course stayed on the ILR roster and led many more in subsequent years.

By the end of its first five years, our ILR was offering from 12 to 15 Study Groups each semester and had a core of 50 Study Group Leaders. From inception, course offerings have encompassed a wide variety of academic and social areas. They include current events, art history, religion, science, philosophy, prose and poetry, health and medicine, genetics, music appreciation and creative writing.

Not to mention hikes, more computer courses, and foreign languages, including (for more than 15 years) Yiddish!  "Experiences outside the classroom" have been offered for over 25 years as part of our curriculum.  Day trips to unique venues and both trending and historic areas in our tri-state region have allowed participants to get exposure to different social and cultural points of view first hand.

In the 28 years since the Institute for Learning in Retirement Inc. at Albertus Magnus College (no wonder we’re known simply as ILR!)  has been in existence, we have offered more than 1,500 courses during 54 semesters. Our membership has grown from that original group of 40 to more than 500 – a number which is still small enough to make it possible to continue as an all-volunteer group, though on occasion we have had to contract for registration services.

Word-of-mouth together with occasional articles and local talk shows has brought most members to our doors, and most renew their membership each year. Some take as few as two courses a semester. Others have been known to take seven or more! True to the hopes of its founders, our ILR is proud of the caliber of its Study Group Leaders, credentialed and non-credentialed. They generously donate their time and knowledge, as do our hard-working officers, board members and committee members.

We now regularly offer courses at many different locations – not only at Albertus Magnus College but also at the University of New Haven’s Orange campus, Whitney Center and the Woodbridge Library. Our members come primarily from New Haven, Hamden, Orange, Woodbridge, Miilford and North Haven, but we have also had some from as far away as Glastonbury and Westport.

From the start, we have shared course ideas, leaders and administrative practices with other lifelong-learning groups in Connecticut and New England. Members who would like to know more about how organizations like our own work are invited to long onto Road Scholars’ Lifelog Learning Resource Network newsletter.

The torch of our ILR has now passed from the founding group to a new generation (though we still have a few members who were among the original 40 founders). Today, it is up to new members to continue a wonderful tradition of donating their time and talents so we can continue to flourish. As our founders once put it, “as long as you’re learning, you’ll never grow old.”

Trish O’Leary Treat, ILR historian




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