I Spy Someone making a difference.
The woman behind OLLI: Linda Ketronby Mona Prufer
Linda Ketron was about to jump into her car the other morning, on her way to teach water aerobics at a nearby health club, when she noticed a neighbor cat lying beside her right tire. Worried about the mother cat's proximity to the vehicle, her husband Larry popped open the hood to discover a new litter of three babies curled up on the engine – two little tigers and a black kitten.
So she jumped on her bike and pedaled the mile to class, wearing a long jumper over her swimsuit.
"I'm sure I looked like Nanny McPhee with my hair in a bun on top of my head, pedaling furiously down the road," says Ketron, who has taught early morning water exercise for 20 years. "But there was no way I was going to be driving that car."
So, three kittens later, the Ketron household is up to 18 cats. While that might seem like a lot of cats to some, the animal-loving Ketrons are completely unperturbed by the additions – though they would like to find the kittens new homes.
After water aerobics, Ketron was so delayed by her bike ride that she arrived at the weekly Moveable Feast (a literary luncheon that she coordinates, featuring an author and lunch at a local restaurant) somewhat damp and frizzy. And, after that, there was the usual workaday schedule at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center in Litchfield where she spends most of her time, coordinating the hundreds of noncredit, community classes for people over 50 offered through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).
Ketron, a native of Oregon, came to Coastal Carolina University in May 2004 to organize the new Waccamaw Center and the now defunct Georgetown outreach center. The noncredit education program for community members was called Lifelong Learning back then but became OLLI in November 2007 when the program received a $100,000 annual renewable grant from the Osher Foundation. The grant money (now in its third renewal) is used to market and advertise the classes, helping grow the program from 600 participants to 2,200 over the past four years.
Currently, some 95 local residents and snowbirds, many of them retired, are recruited and volunteer to teach a remarkable variety of subjects. Only a few of them, like Richard Moore and Philip Powell, are CCU professors. Subjects range from painting to local history, photography, selling on eBay and many more. Courses are held each season on the CCU campus (at the Foundation Center), at the Waccamaw Center and at the Myrtle Beach Education Center at U.S. 17 Bypass and 79th Avenue North.
The CCU OLLI program is the second largest in the nation. More than 117 programs are offered at colleges and universities in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
It is a labor of love for Ketron, who says, "I love everything I do, from planning the OLLI schedules, to working with volunteers, to working with the local library, to teaching water exercise, to working Saturdays at Art Works [an art gallery she owns and manages in the Litchfield Exchange]."
The middle child of a homemaker and a physician/surgeon/psychiatrist, Ketron attended Whittier College in California, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English. She studied English literature in graduate school at San Francisco State University where she wanted to concentrate on Dickens – she's read all his works – but was discouraged by a hippie professor who advised her not to concentrate on a "dead white guy." So she switched to the English modernist writer Virginia Woolf.
Ketron never completed that master's degree. She found herself doing real estate work (she answered a newspaper ad for "realistic research" — a misspelling of "real estate" research). From there, she attended graduate school in city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and she eventually earned a master's degree in health services administration from Antioch College.
She studied and analyzed social service programs and even wrote the 1974 Congressional standards for rehabilitation of the disabled. Ketron moved to New York City, where she met her future husband, a playwright from east Tennessee, during the Blizzard of '78. They were married in June 1980.
The Ketrons moved to the Grand Strand in 1988, only to be greeted by Hurricane Hugo in the fall of 1989 (which brought them their first cat). Linda quickly became involved in many facets of the community, which she continues to this day. She manages/coordinates/participates in:
* CLASS (Community Learning About Special Subjects), which she founded in 1998
* Art Works, an art gallery run by volunteers who are artists
* Alternatives news magazine columnist for 14 years
* Waccamaw Library, public relations chair
* Self-Published Authors Book Fair, founder, 2006
* Bike the Neck Committee, founder and chair, 1994, which advocated and raised money for 13 miles of bicycling/walking pathways through the Waccamaw Neck.
* Georgetown County League of Women Voters
* Souper Bowl for Habitat for Humanity, founder
With all her jobs and responsibilities, Ketron doesn't even blink when asked about the best thing about working at CCU.
"The people! Sometimes I wish I was on [main] campus. I don't have enough contact with people to be friends, but I really enjoy the people I work with and whose paths I cross," says Ketron. "I am happy to be part of it all."