Simplified: Sioux Falls' Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is working to rebuild after about 64 percent of paying members left during the pandemic.

Why it matters

  • OLLI has been offering classes targeted to people age 50 and older in Sioux Falls since 2007. The local branch is part of the national OLLI network and also the only OLLI in South Dakota.
  • The classes are meant to encourage lifelong learning, but they also give members a space to socialize, share ideas and meet new people.
  • Pre-pandemic, OLLI had grown to more than 700 members. But when they had to shut down in-person classes and navigate a switch to online-only last year, their membership dropped to a low of 250, Director Thea Miller Ryan said.
"We're really crawling our way out of the canyon," Ryan said.

What changed during the pandemic?

Like many things, OLLI classes temporarily shut down and then moved online.

The Sioux Falls nonprofit was able to offer 50 online courses during the summer of 2020. Now, they still offer both online and in-person courses.

The move online helped OLLI gain members statewide, since virtual classes were more widely available.

  • The virtual classes also expand the ability for OLLI to bring in instructors because they can join online from anywhere.

How do OLLI classes work?

Classes vary quite a bit, both in duration and subject matter.

  • One semester might have a six-week Russian history course, and another class may be a one-time tour of the state penitentiary or a hands-on wreath-making class.

Members pay $100 per semester and have access to take as many of the approximately 150 courses offered as they want. All classes are short-term and non-credit.

"The one question we never ask is, 'Is this going to be on the test?'" said Mary Enright, a Sioux Falls woman who's been taking OLLI classes for about seven years.

Who is this for?

Any curious person, though the target audience is folks in the 50+ age group.

For Ray Townsend, OLLI classes have been a way to explore his passion for history in his retirement from a career in IT.

"It's given me the opportunity to explore some avenues that I just never had time to do when I was working full-time," Townsend said.

It's also a way to make connections to others in the community. OLLI members come from a variety of backgrounds, including teachers, scientists, health care workers, people working in tech and more.

Where can I learn more?

OLLI has a course catalog, membership information and details on how to support the nonprofit's mission on its website.

OLLI's in-person Sioux Falls classes are located at the Community College for Sioux Falls, which is overseen by the University of South Dakota.