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CCU Atheneum: A Tai Chi class.
A Tai Chi class.

CCU's OLLI has a new home in Litchfield

by Mona Prufer
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Coastal Carolina University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, fondly called OLLI, finally has a new home on the south end.

The program of noncredit courses for the community, which is operated out of the University’s Division of Academic Outreach, has been without a permanent home or classroom space in Litchfield for slightly more than a year.

During this time, Linda Ketron and her crew of merry staffers have been working from their home computers, making business calls on their cell phones, carrying their work files around in their cars and borrowing free community space where they could find it.

But now that they’ve moved into the University’s new 6,500-square-foot Litchfield Education Center in Litchfield Landing, the struggles of running the 1,600-member operation are practically a thing of the past.

Juggling where to redirect dozens of classes and clubs was “a huge challenge,” says Ketron in classic understatement. “I love a challenge, but it got old.”

And challenge it has been. When CCU had to move out of the Waccamaw Higher Education Center on Willbrook Boulevard in 2012 (it had been leased), the plan was to move into the Litchfield Exchange building and renovate that space for community classes. But that proved so costly – an estimated $250,000 – that the plan was scrapped. After much searching, the current space, which was formerly a bookstore and other retail stores, was located and leased for five years. But the space required considerable renovation to be suitable for an education center with classrooms and offices.

Gayle Britt, director of operations at the Litchfield location, is thrilled with the new space—five classrooms, two offices, conference room, storage, etc. In the past year, 15 different space usage agreements were executed just to keep the program alive. Cal Wall, administrative specialist, who registered OLLI students with a computer fob he carried around, is happy to have a desk with a computer and phone right in front of him.

With the loss of the Waccamaw Higher Education Center on Willbrook Boulevard, the OLLI program could have been temporarily suspended until permanent space was secured.

“We weren’t willing to do that,” says Ketron. “We would have had to rebuild faith and confidence [in the program]. We were also worried about losing our great teachers, not to mention our students and followers. By operating at less than optimum level, we were able to hang on.”

Less than optimum level meant seeking free space in places like the Litchfield Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort, with its plush theater and elegant surroundings. The Bunnelle Foundation also opened its doors to the computer clubs; in return, Ketron invited its nonprofit workers to take classes for free. “We tried to give as much as we took.”

Other spaces where classes were held included the Chocolate & Coffee House in the Litchfield Exchange, Grace Church and Applewood House of Pancakes.

With the temporary confusion and lack of permanent spaces, however, some students became discouraged and quit the program. “We lost about 300 students down here, but we feel certain that we’ll rebuild. There was a feeling that Coastal might not have a presence on the south end, but now they feel the school has really delivered.”

On a Tuesday in mid February, the new center, which surrounds an investment company, was a hubbub of activity, with a large travel club making plans for a St. Patrick’s Day party, a painting class, a card crafting class, a financial class and a Tai Chi group making its silent moves.

Donna Hutter, who is an OLLI instructor with a class on End-of-Life Readiness, was busy making a birthday card in Linda Beyer’s cardcrafting class. It was an industrious setting, and everyone seemed happy to have a “home.”

“Our biggest feeling is relief,” says Ketron. “And gratefulness. We have been living in shambles and chaos for the past year, so this is quite nice, to have a roof over our heads, nice classrooms, computers, printers and phones.”


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