About OLLI

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville (formerly the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement) is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed learning community dedicated to promoting lifelong learning, leadership, community service, and research. We opened our doors in 1988 as a department of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Our goal is to enable our members to thrive in life’s second half.

OLLI at UNC Asheville (OLLI) embraces a comprehensive array of programs in the arts and humanities, the natural world, civic engagement, wellness, life transition and retirement relocation planning.

How do we operate?

OLLI is housed in a building dedicated to our use, the Reuter Center, on the UNC Asheville campus. Members and staff collaborate to create all programs. More than two-thirds of our budget is derived from endowment income, member contributions and fees, with the rest from state funding. Approximately 350 members volunteer each year to do everything from teach, serve on committees, run research projects, and mentor undergraduates.

Who participates?

OLLI membership is open to anyone who wishes to experience the wide range of courses and activities we offer. Most of our members are over 55, but we encourage attendance by any adult who wishes to be part of our community of learners. Many of our participants have relocated to the area, but we encourage those who have lived and worked in Western North Carolina throughout their lives to seek a creative retirement at OLLI. We benefit from a diversity of life experiences and points of view and value the opportunity to learn from one another both inside and outside our classes.

Who’s taking notice?

OLLI’s uniqueness has earned it frequent mention in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney, Business Week, Kiplinger’s, and The Christian Science Monitor, TV’s CBS Sunday Morning, and websites such as CNN.com, AOL.com and many others.

What do we stand for?

Our values express how we expect to travel where we want to go:

  • Sense of Community: We are a community of adults who share fellowship in an atmosphere that is respectful, stimulating, creative, fulfilling, and fun.
  • Lifelong Learning: We are an enthusiastic group of learners and teachers.
  • Innovation: We strive to be at the leading edge and model best practices nationally in learning, life transitions, and civic engagement programs for older adults.
  • Collaboration: We collaborate both within and outside OLLI to offer programs that benefit our members and the community.
  • Continuous Improvement: We seek continuous improvement in our communications, organization, inclusion, operations, programming, and facilities.
  • Service: We encourage our members to grow through service to OLLI, UNC Asheville, and the community.

OLLI continues to grow by taking the accumulated experience and knowledge of the past and making it newly relevant to the changing environment and conditions of life. Members get to join a new community by making friends with people who share curiosity and enthusiasm for trying new things. Join us to discover wonderful, new aspects of yourself and the environment that surrounds you!


OLLI at UNC Asheville’s mission is to promote opportunities to thrive in life’s second half through programs in lifelong learning, leadership, community service, and research.

OLLI (formerly the NC Center for Creative Retirement) was established in 1988 as an integral part of UNC Asheville with the purpose of providing today’s accomplished adult with opportunities for lifelong learning, leadership and community service, each combined with the fellowship of peers sharing a common quest for continued growth and service to others. In 2012 we joined the nationwide network of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.

OLLI participants help to set annual objectives and implement programs through the OLLI Steering Council in collaboration with OLLI’s professional staff. OLLI draws financial support from public funding, private fees, consulting services, gifts and foundation grants.

How did we come about?

View a commemorative publication created on our 25th anniversary as a program and 10th anniversary housed in the Reuter Center.

Impetus for establishment of the NC Center for Creative Retirement (now OLLI at UNC Asheville) came from then UNC Asheville chancellor David Brown (at UNC Asheville 1984-1990) who led a team of planners made up of faculty, community leaders and administrators in developing the concept of a center for older learners. Brown was able to convince regional representatives of the NC General Assembly of the merits of lifelong learning opportunities for older adults and the benefits of using education as a means of integrating newcomers (Asheville is a “retiree destination”) into the community. This led to their securing funding for the NC Center for Creative Retirement. Subsequent chancellors and legislators have been similarly enthusiastic and supportive of the organization’s mission.

In 1987, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation to provide annual funding to establish an innovative center at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The program would encourage active seniors to continue to learn and to share their accumulated knowledge and expertise with their communities. The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement (in 2012 renamed Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville — OLLI) opened its doors in 1988 as a UNC Asheville public service initiative with statewide outreach components. The Center invited mid-life and older adults to engage in a revolutionary new idea. These seasoned adults would actively plan and carry out their own educational programs for lifelong learning, leadership, community service, wellness, and research in order to foster personal growth while channeling their energies back into their communities, thus benefiting members of all generations.

Since 1988, the idea of “creative retirement” has gained considerable momentum. The Center has grown from 150 to more than 2500+ annual participants, gained a national reputation for its innovative approaches to lifelong learning, garnered award, and received state and national recognition in newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, and in television and radio profiles.

Who is OLLI named after?

In 2012, the NC Center for Creative Retirement was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation; this grant allowed us to provide integrated technology for all of our classrooms in the Reuter Center and to enhance our Appalachian studies and civic engagement programs.  In 2013, we were awarded a $2 million endowment and changed our name from the NC Center for Creative Retirement to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UNC Asheville, joining a network of 125 OLLIs across the country, linked with universities and focused on programming for older adults. Our Osher endowment generates additional income of more than $100,000 per year to allow us to continue to offer high quality programs at a relatively low cost to our members. Endowment funding sustains the work of our organization and also allows us to take some risks on new programming directions.

Bernard Osher, the founder and treasurer of the Osher Foundation, grew up in southern Maine, where his family operated a hardware store and a summer amusement park. He attended Bowdoin College and began his career in New York as a financial analyst. In 1963 he purchased the two-branch thrift which ultimately became one of the largest savings institutions in the US. In 1970, Mr. Osher purchased the fine art auction house Butterfield and Butterfield, and, under his leadership, it became the fourth largest auction house in the world. He sold Butterfield and Butterfield to eBay in 1999. In 2006, Mr. Osher was listed as the 746th richest man in the world and the 11th most generous philanthropist. The Osher Foundation focuses on improving the quality of life for residents of California, Maine, and elsewhere through student scholarships (specifically a national program to target the needs of people between the ages of 25 and 50 who wish to return to college to finish a degree) and arts, cultural and educational grants and support of programs in integrative medicine and lifelong learning.

Mr. Osher developed his interest in lifelong learning as the result of personal experience. Sometime around the year 2000, when he was in his late 70s, he visited Maine and found that many of the people he had grown up with were active and engaged, while others were feeling isolated and without direction or purpose in their “golden years.” It turns out that those who were thriving were part of the University of Southern Maine’s Senior College, a program for lifelong learning very much like OLLI’s College for Seniors. Mr. Osher turned his philanthropy to funding institutes for learning in retirement, initially setting out to sponsor two in every state. At this time, there are 125 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLIs) across the country; in North Carolina, in addition to UNC Asheville, Duke, NC State University and UNC Wilmington have Osher sponsored programs. Each program is different, but all have the mission to help participants thrive in life’s second half.

The Osher Foundation allows the staff and members of each individual program to design their program offerings to meet their unique needs and enhance their unique strengths. Each Osher program is free to register students as they wish and to govern the organization independently. In other words, the Foundation gives complete autonomy to programs, so long as they focus their efforts on providing programming to people who are 50 or older. The Foundation and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes National Resource Center (housed at Northwestern University) offer significant support to members of the network by offering professional development and consulting on challenging issues. OLLI at UNC Asheville gains not just income through its connection with the Osher Foundation; we become part of a national dialogue among colleagues and peers who provide lifelong learning opportunities to older adults. Organizations in the network share best practices and engage in debate about new ways to meet the evolving needs of older adults. The financial support provided by the Foundation and the learning opportunities provided by the National Resource Center mean that we will be able to sustain the ground-breaking work and forward-thinking vision of our founders and to continue to dream big and act boldly.

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