• A man giving a speech at a podium.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Missouri (Osher@Mizzou) has announced the establishment of an endowed Founders Fund — a step that will help ensure the long-term vitality of this University of Missouri Extension program that provides educational, cultural and social opportunities for learners ages 50 and over. The celebration of the fund's launch this fall also provided an opportunity to recognize Osher@Mizzou's founders, as well as the program's recent expansion into online learning, serving statewide learners and beyond.

Thanks to the vision and efforts of Tom Henderson, John Parker and the now deceased Lucille Salerno, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute was established at MU in 2004. As early as 2002, Parker saw the need for quality continuing adult learning for those in the "third stage of life" and developed the concept of this continuing education program focused on older adults, said Tom Henderson, former vice provost for MU Extension. "This idea also appealed to me because we have always talked about the role of Extension in providing education that serves people" at every stage of life; yet, there was a dearth of options for older learners at the time.

The Lifespan Learning Program, as it was known for its first two years, offered six to eight classes at the former MU alumni center, Parker recalled. As interest quickly grew, the founders applied to the California-based Bernard Osher Foundation to provide support to expand. The foundation focuses on providing grants and endowment gifts to colleges, universities and other nonprofits to support lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults, as well as post-secondary scholarships, integrative medicine programs and arts and educational organizations.

Osher@Mizzou now welcomes more than 650 lifelong learners each year to more than 30 in-person and online classes each semester on subjects as varied as history and memoir-writing to gardening, personal finance and wellness. Many classes are taught by retired professional educators and university professors. Osher@Mizzou was cited as a factor in Kiplinger's selection of Columbia as one of its 2015 Top Ten list of places to retire.

Osher Founders from left to right: Tom Henderson, Lucille Salerno, and John Parker
Osher Founders from left to right: Tom Henderson, Lucille Salerno, and John Parker

In 2020, a group of dedicated Osher members and advisors established an endowed fund to acknowledge the vision of Osher@Mizzou's three founders and to help provide a reliable stream of revenue to support and sustain the Osher program for the future, said Osher senior coordinator Jennifer Erickson.

"Both the community and university are blessed by Osher," Parker said, as Osher has opened "the university's doors, inviting Columbia and neighboring county citizens to be a part of MU's educational opportunity." A speaker at the recent Founders Fund celebration noted that research suggests continuing education may even play a role in memory retention and prevention or delay of dementia, Parker said.

In addition to the new learning and experiences, Osher fosters new friendships and connections at a stage in life when sustaining social networks often is more challenging, said Helen Washburn, past chair and current member of the Osher Advisory Council.

Osher also thrives because of its strong volunteer and advisory council components, Washburn said. A scholarship fund provides access to those who otherwise could not afford classes. The endowment fund is another key step to ensure the program's long-term viability and is important for symbolic reasons, as well. "An endowed fund demonstrates an on-going commitment to the program's future and growth," Washburn said.

A gift to the fund connects donors to the founders' legacy while positioning Osher to continue to offer classes and programs at a reasonable cost and reach an ever-growing audience. Online options are expanding and drawing older learners from across Missouri, and efforts are underway to engage more directly with alumni and seniors at the other three UM System campuses and communities.

Donors can make one-time gifts and/or pledges over a period of years to the fund and can commit through their will cash or other assets, such as stock, real estate or other property gifts.

For more information about supporting Osher, please contact Osher@Mizzou at 573-882-8189, or MU Extension Advancement at 573-884-8570.

Give to the Founders Fund