Gift to OLLI Gives New Life to Lifelong Learning

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at SOU is a place where the maturing adult can learn new things and pursue a variety of interests. Above all, though, it is a place for social connection.

OLLI volunteer Lorraine Vail said that these community connections are a primary reason why the group began a fundraising campaign to renovate the former World War barracks that have housed most of OLLI’s classes for 25 years. “The buildings were definitely outdated, but they also needed to be more comfortable for our members to have the right-size classrooms for discussions,” said Vail. “OLLI classes are not just about sitting in a lecture, they are about sharing thoughts and ideas with one another.”

The buildings were originally part of Camp White, an Army training base and POW camp near Medford. After the war, many Camp White facilities were relocated throughout southern Oregon. After being moved to the SOU campus, the buildings were later named for Phil Campbell, the university’s former housing director.

The total cost to renovate the Campbell Center was set at $665,000, an amount that would update HVAC and electrical systems as well as outfit the center with new technology and furnishings. “We had a goal of raising $500,000 from donors for the project, and we achieved it,” said Vail, who co-chaired the ReNEWall campaign. According to Vail, 40 percent of OLLI’s members contributed, but its biggest boost came from the William G. and Ruth T. Evans Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation, a donor-advised fund established by the parents of OLLI supporters, Peg and Barb Evans.

The sisters were raised with a strong sense of community and giving. Long after their parents’ deaths, the Evans sisters have continued the family’s tradition of giving. Philanthropy to organizations and institutions they care about is something the Evans sisters learned from their parents, said Barb. “They taught us that you can make a difference. You can change a person’s life,” she said.

“My parents, my sister, and I, all have the same goal: to make the area and its institutions better,” said Peg. “You never know what a gift of financial support can do for people’s lives.”

It is that spirit of generosity that inspired the Evans sisters to contribute to the Campbell Center renovation project, according to Peg. “Through the foundation, we had the means, and we knew we could contribute to making OLLI a better place for everyone,” she said.

William Evans was a family physician who deeply cared about his patients. He set up several funds in western Pennsylvania, where they lived at the time, to fund healthcare in the low-income school districts where his practice was located. “He made his living in that area, and he wanted to give back to the community,” according to Peg.

When the family moved to Oregon, Ruth Evans, a former WWII nurse, endowed a scholarship fund for nursing students planning to work in the Rogue Valley, a legacy that continues to serve nursing students at OHSU in Ashland and at RCC.

Both Peg and Barb are musicians, and Peg’s connection to SOU and OLLI runs particularly deep. She’s an SOU professor emerita of music and a renowned organist. She is also an OLLI member who teaches music courses, music history, and a course on philanthropic giving called “How to Be a [Better] Philanthropist,” in which she encourages others to give financial support to organizations they are passionate about. “Why not give if you can?” she said. “There are many, many needs, and you don’t have to have a great deal of money to make a difference.”

Making a difference in a person’s life is a core component of the OLLI mission. Vail said that a lot of OLLI members are seniors who live alone, and OLLI is their key connection to other people. “We were very conscious of designing a space that would help build community, a space that would be comfortable,” she said.

Vail added that the fundraising campaign itself, with OLLI members, teachers and volunteers joining forces, illustrated the strength of the OLLI community and the deep connections of its members. “This is all possible because of a dedicated group of volunteers. There was a real team spirit about it.”