Celebrating 20 Years!

Celebrating 20 Years!

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Bradley University (OLLI) is a group of more than 1,000 individuals, age 50 and over, who learn together through three distinct programs: OLLI Classes, OLLI Learning Trips, and OLLI Study Groups.

Here, members can discuss what they learned, what they enjoyed, and offer suggestions to enhance future program offerings.

Take a look at the photos we're taking, and the discussions we're having as OLLI members.

Whether we're in class, in town, or out of town ... we're on the go, having fun, and constantly learning.

We look forward to reading your comments!

While you're online, be sure to visit our website www.bradley.edu/continue/olli to register for our programs.

Don't forget -- OLLI has its own YouTube Channel, where you can see video clips of Learning Trips, Classes, and Study Groups!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Congratulations, Citizens Academy graduates!

OLLI congratulates four of its members who recently graduated from the City of Peoria's first Citizens Academy.

Kenny Carrigan, Mike Meehan, Leo Jordan, and Kathie Bartolo all participated in the academy, which provided in-depth looks at many of the departments that comprise city government.

Hooray for the OLLI grads!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Riverfront Heritage: Le Vieux Carre -- November 18, 2009

Pat Sullivan, local developer and co-owner of JP Companies, gave OLLI members a private, behind-the-scenes look at one of the crown jewels of Peoria's Riverfront, Le Vieux Carre ("the old quarter").

He purchased the building nearly 10 years ago and has developed it into a commercial and residential hotspot which features Kelleher's Pub, a piano bar, several offices of start-up businesses, and loft-style condominiums.

Many thanks to Pat for taking time out of his very busy schedule to give OLLI a unique look at his efforts to develop the riverfront.

All Along the Hilltop -- November 19, 2009

Did you like this video? If so, check out the OLLI at BU channel here!

On OLLI's last learning trip of the fall, we stayed in our own "backyard" and took a guided tour of the Bradley University campus.

Our tour was led by Phil, a Bradley undergraduate student and member of the Student Admission Representative (STAR) team. We began the tour with a behind-the-scenes look at the broadcast studio in the Global Communications Center. Professor (and local journalist) Bob Jacobs talked about his work with up-and-coming producers, and showed clips of their Emmy-winning features on WEEK-TV.

Next, we visited Olin Hall, where Professor Dean Campbell led the group through the chemistry labs and facilitated an "eye-opening" experiment (see video). OLLI also toured the Cullom-Davis Library, Markin Family Recreation Center, Jobst Hall, Michel Student Center, and the Visitor's Center.

Many thanks to the Admissions Office for coordinating the campus tour!

Art Doubleheader -- November 17, 2009

OLLI members got a double dose of local art during our visit to a pair of art studios for private tours and demonstrations.

We first traveled to McNeil Pottery, located in the former Murray's Building in downtown Peoria. During the demonstration, Jerry McNeil told the group that he discovered his passion for pottery at age 17, and sold his first piece (to a stranger) at age 22. After that, he used his self-taught marketing skills and validations from other artists to open his own studio in 1992.

In a typical day, he can make 3-4 vases or 8-10 bowls. Most of his work is commissioned from the Peoria area, but he also sells to galleries in Galena, Iowa City, and has done custom-ordered pieces for people from Italy, England, and Scotland.

Our second stop was the glass blowing studio owned by Hiram Toraason, an OLLI favorite. He talked about his education at Southern Illinois University and subsequent art experience in Asheville, North Carolina. His passion for glass art brought him back to Central Illinois, where he is currently remodeling a new studio on Evans Street.

During his demonstration, he created a large bowl made from transparent and opaque colored glass.

Many thanks to Jerry McNeil and Hiram Toraason for opening their studios to OLLI!

The Future of Journalism -- November 12, 2009

Did you like these videos? If so, check out the OLLI at BU channel here!

In our second intergenerational adventure of 2009, OLLI members and BU undergrads took a trip to Chicago to learn more about the future of journalism.

Led Bradley Communications Chairman Dr. Paul Gullifor and his colleague, Dr. Sara Netzley, OLLI took tours of the WGN-TV studios, watched a live broadcast of the midday news, met meterologist Tom Skilling, and visited the newsroom and studios of WBBM-AM 780.

During the drive to Chicago, the students teamed up with OLLI members to take a journalism quiz, debate the merits of pay-as-you-go internet news, and discussed their job outlooks during these tough economic times. Dr. Netzley also presented an interesting take on how these two generations get their news by showing clips of The Daily Show and The Glenn Beck Show.

Thanks to Dr. Gullifor and Dr. Netzley for coordinating a highly interesting and educational day.

Wyatt, Weavers, and The Works -- November 4, 2009

Did you like this video? If so, check out the OLLI at BU channel here!

Monmouth, Illinois was the location of this learning trip, as we discovered more about the birthplace of Wyatt Earp, the artisians at the Buchanan Art Center and Maple City Pottery, and the history bursting at the seams at the Soda Works.

Our first stop was the Monmouth Soda Works, a restaurant housed in an historic downtown building. Janet Gaskill, owner of the restaurant, talked about her restoration efforts within the structure, which features a one-room schoolhouse on the second level and a 1949 Dodge that was sold at the site when it housed Martin Motor Sales in the 1940s.

We then visited the birthplace of Wyatt Earp, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The house, built in 1841, is one of the oldest homes in the city and features early pioneer Greek Revival construction.

After watching the Tromp As Writ Weavers Guild work on their looms in the Buchanan Arts Center, we headed back downtown for a private demonstration at Maple City Pottery. The employees showed us how they fashion the crocks by hand, then kiln fire and salt glaze them for a durable exterior finish.

For more information about our Day in Monmouth, visit these websites: Monmouth Soda Works, Wyatt Earp Birthplace, Buchanan Center, and Maple City Pottery.

Behind the Broadway Curtain -- November 7, 2009

OLLI headed north on a crisp fall day to enjoy a theater tour and performance of "Young Frankenstein."

Upon arrival, we took a one-hour private tour of the Cadillac Palace Theater in downtown Chicago. Our guides led us through the 83-year-old building, noting its importance on the legendary vaudeville Orpheum Circuit. The building was designed by legendary architects (Rapp Brothers), and features a lobby with decorative mirrors, white marble, gold leaf, and wood decorations.

The 2,500-seat venue was the site for our matinee performance of "Young Frankenstein." The musical comedy by Mel Brooks had OLLI members in stitches as they followed young Dr. Frankenstein's attempts to complete his grandfather's vision of bringing a corpse to life.

For more information about our tour and performance, visit the websites of Broadway in Chicago and Young Frankenstein the Musical.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dixon's -- November 3, 2009

Did you like this video? If so, check out the OLLI at BU channel here!

In early November, we headed to East Peoria to learn more about another local favorite, Dixon's Fisheries.

During our tour, manager Jason Livingston described the history of the locally owned producer and wholesaler of fresh fish. We learned how the company, now in its fourth generation of operation, uses modern processing methods, aqua farming, and worldwide transportation systems to continue its tradition of supplying quality seafood products to customers around the planet.

We also had a chance to see employees at work filleting fish, packaging orders, and gathering inventory from the freezers and coolers. Antonio, a 14-year-veteran at Dixon's, showed us many of the varieties of fish they were shipping across the midwest, including a 380-pound swordfish, a macko shark, yellow fin tuna, and striped bass.

Dixon's purchases its inventory from brokers around the world, and once purchased seafood from the crew that was dramatized in the movie "The Perfect Storm." The company sells and ships its seafood six days a week; in fact, over 1,000 pounds of seabass and 5,000 pounds of salmon alone are sold each week!

OLLI thanks Jason and his friendly co-workers at Dixon's for providing an educational tour. For more information, please visit Dixon's website.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Behind the Music -- October 30, 2009

Did you like these videos? If so, check out the OLLI at BU channel here!

On October 30, OLLI traveled to Don's Musicland in Peoria for a private, behind-the-scenes visit with owner Don Middleton.

Middleton, who opened his store 41 years ago, gave us a tour of the 9,500 square-foot facility, which includes seven studios. His store has the largest music book selection in downstate Illinois -- during our visit, he had more than 1,300 books from which to choose.

Other highlights of the tour included demonstrations of the Beamz interactive music device, which interacts with a computer to play hundreds of types of songs, all controlled with hand movements. Members of Don's staff also showed off the new digital pianos, guitar selection, and spoke about the Quick Start program, which encourages senior citizens to learn to play instruments.

For more information about Don's Musicland, please visit its webpage.

In Search of Lewis and Clark -- October 29, 2009

The rain didn't dampen the spirits of nearly 30 OLLI members who joined our learning trip to the Lewis and Clark State Historical Site and Cahokia Mounds National Historic Site in southwest Illinois.

Our first stop was the Lewis and Clark site, which was designated as the location for one of the National Signature Events for the 2004 Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. The 14,000 square-foot facility, located at the winter camp area of the expedition, included a 55-foot full-scale replica of the keel boat used by Lewis and Clark. We also viewed exhibits on Illinois and the entire expedition, as well as a video in the facility's theater.

After a hearty lunch at Ravanelli's, we visited Cahokia Mounds, where 1,000 years ago a great civilization of Mississippian peoples thrived. During our interactive tour of the visitor's center (it was much too rainy to climb to the top of Monk's Mound), we learned about its history as the largest prehistoric Indian city north of Mexico.

For more information about the sites we visited, check these websites:
--Lewis and Clark State Historical Site
--Cahokia Mounds

This additional website, courtesy of Lauren Jackson of the Pacific Northwest Librarians Association, may also provide more information about Cahokia Mounds.

Reading the Landscape -- October 27, 2009

Naturalist Dean Johnston instructed OLLI members how to identify types of trees during our learning trip to the Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria.

During our hike in the nature preserve, we learned about basic tree biology, including habitat, fruits, bark, buds, size, and leaves. Our identification focused on seven trees native to the preserve: hackberry, black walnut, slippery elm, white oak, buckeye, red oak, and sugar maple.

For more information about Forest Park, visit the Peoria Park District's website.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Institute for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation -- October 16, 2009

On our trip to IPMR, we learned about the 60-year history of the Institute, its non-profit mission, and its intriguing connection to Bradley University's School of Horology.

In the late 1930s, injured World War I veterans had little options when they returned to the United States -- jobs were extremely scarce and there were no rehabilitation facilities. As a result, many injured veterans were placed in clock and watch repair programs acoss the country. One of those programs was right here in Peoria -- Bradley University's School of Horology.

In the early 1940s, Dr. Harold Vonachen, the medical director at Caterpillar Tractor Company (headquartered in Peoria), knew that his company would be unable to meet production demands after the war if workers returned with war injuries. To avoid this problem, he gathered the area's bankers, realtors, psychologists, and Blue Star mothers to help create a comprehensive plan to get injured vets back to work.

The "Peoria Plan for Rehabilitation" became the blueprint for the world's first comprehensive vocational rehabilitation center -- today's IPMR. Besides helping war veterans return to work, the Institute also helped children with polio, victims of automobile accidents (a sharp increase in car travel in the 1950s led to a dramatic increase in wrecks), and began using new technology for splints and prothesises.

Today, IPMR provides rehab services in 18 different locations and employs more than 122 clinical staffers. During our tour, Marketing Director Barbara Campbell explained how IPMR focuses on the functioning of the body and the mechanics of problems, such as arthritis, stress fractures, and strokes. She led us through many of the rehab areas of the facility, including the balance rehab center and occupational rehab center.

OLLI thanks IPMR and Barbara Campbell for providing such an informative tour!

For more information about IPMR, please visit its website.

Wheels O'Time and Tanner's Orchard -- October 15, 2009

It was a cold and wet day for our tours of Wheels O'Time and Tanner's Orchard, but we braved the weather and walked away with a great deal of knowledge about these two local treasures.

Our first stop was the Wheels O'Time Museum in north Peoria. Our docents led us through an amazing variety of memorabilia housed in three separate buildings, including vintage automobiles, a precursor to the Caterpillar Tractor, clocks, model trains, antique washing machines, and firefighting equipment.

After lunch at Tanner's, we took a private tour of the orchard, warehouse, and processing area. For 62 years, the Tanner family has owned and managed the orchard in its current location in Speer, Illinois. It sells its products on-site only, and does not ship anything to supermarkets.

Please visit the websites for Wheels O'Time and Tanner's Orchard for more information.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wine Tasting Class -- October 8, 2009

On October 8, OLLI celebrated another first -- a wine tasting class!

Two dozen OLLI members braved the cold and rain to travel to downtown Peoria's Two25 Restaurant, our wonderful host for the evening. The class was led by Jason Steffens, a certified wine specialist for Wirtz Beverage Illinois. He shared an abundance of wine knowledge with the group, ranging from wine production, the components of taste and aroma, the world viticultural zones, and more.

During the two-hour class, participants sampled five types of wine: Twisted River Late Harvest Riesling (Germany), Alamos Chardonnay (Argentina), Jadot Pinot Noir (France), Rodney Strong Knotty Vine Zinfandel (California), and CYT Diablo Reserve Pravada Cabernet/Syrah Blend (Chile).

It was a wonderful evening of wine and education! Many thanks to Bill Kwon, frequent OLLI instructor, for his assistance, as well as Shane White of Two25 for his attention throughout the evening.

For more information about our hosts and instructor, please visit these websites:

Two25 Restaurant
Wirtz Beverage Illinois

Monday, October 5, 2009

Canoeing and Candlelight New Salem -- October 2, 2009

October was all about OLLI firsts ... on a cool Friday afternoon, we traveled to Petersburg, Illinois for a canoeing trip, trolley tour, and visit to the New Salem State Historical Site.

Upon our arrival in Petersburg (near Springfield), we split into two groups. One group canoed a two-mile route on the Sangamon River, while the other group boarded a trolley for a private tour of the historic town.

Our canoeing instructor, Scott Hewitt, did a wonderful job -- not one person fell in (or even got wet)! He provided intriguing interpretations during our float down the same river once paddled by a young Abraham Lincoln. One group even had the opportunity to see a bald eagle soar directly overhead.

Mike Stier, owner of the Stier Trolley Express, was our guide for the tour of Petersburg. He took us past many points of interest, including neighborhoods rich in Victorian homes from the 1800s, a Tiffany window in the Central Presbyterian Church, and homes of several famous people, including Congressman Thompson Ware McNeely, George Warburton, and Edgar Lee Master.

After dinner at Stonebake Pizza, we headed to New Salem for its annual candlelight tour. The paths of the village were lit by candlelight only, and we were able to roam the village enjoying the interpreters in period clothing describe what life was like during the six years of Abraham Lincoln's stay.

For more information about our trip, please visit these websites:
Lincoln's New Salem Canoe Rental
Stier Trolley Express
Stonebake Pizza
Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site

Knoxville Center for Student Success -- October 1, 2009

OLLI members had the unique opportunity to visit the Knoxville Center for Student Success (KCSS), an alternative middle school operated by Peoria School District 150.

Principal Donna O'Day led a tour of the building, which used to house the Social Security Administration, then walked us through a "typical" day a the school. Each morning, students eat breakfast in the cafeteria, then participate in a group activity called "The Melt," wherein they use relaxation techniques to release negative energy and get motivated for the day. Soon thereafter, it's time for classes, physical education, lunch, and community-based instruction and individual work with counselors. After school, the KCSS provides two hours of tutoring, mentoring, and conferencing for students.

Students are referred to KCSS by parents, teachers, principals, and support staff. Candidates for the school are those students who are engaged in learning but have experienced repeated setbacks. Students are accepted and enrolled based upon the quality of the referral and the student/parent intake interviews.

Principal O'Day said her school is always on the lookout for community partners and volunteers. If you would like to become a lunch buddy, tutor, or mentor, simply contact her at donna.oday@psd150.org.

OLLI would like to thank Principal O'Day, as well as the three young men who gave wonderful presentations during our visit. For more information about the KCSS, please visit the District 150 website.

South Side Mission Culinary Arts School -- September 24, 2009

Our visit to the South Side Mission, otherwise referred to as the "Lighthouse on Laramie," opened our eyes to the plight of the poor, downtrodden, and homeless in Peoria.

During our visit, we received an in-depth tour of the building, enjoyed a gourmet lunch by the culinary arts students on site, and learned a great deal about the Mission's services and impact on the 61605 zip code.

Executive Director Phil Newton told us the Mission provides hope, hot meals, and sanctuary to more than 15,000 people annually. It coordinates more than 40 programs for Peoria's poorest residents, including two new elderly services that arose in response to the large number of elderly poor in need of social services.

The mission relies solely on grants and donations; it does not receive government funding and is not a United Way agency. The ministry owns all of its facilities outright, and was named as a top-ten ministry in America in the August 23 issue of World Magazine.

The Culinary Arts Training School, led by Chef Chris Franzoni, was founded in 2008 to help unemployed men and women train for careers in the hospitality industry. OLLI members dined on lunch made by these students, and had an opportunity to meet the fledgling chefs.

OLLI would like to thank Meg Newell for providing an informative, intriguing, and eye-opening tour of the South Side Mission. For more information, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, please visit the Mission's website.

Lebanese Ethnic Dinner -- September 23, 2009

It's another OLLI tradition -- the ethnic dinner! This season, we celebrated the Lebanese culture (and the 95th anniversary of the Itoo Hall in Peoria) with a relaxing evening of Lebanese music, delightful presentations about the immigration of the Lebanese to Peoria, and, of course, delicious food.

Upon arrival, members were treated to authentic music and a variety of displays from the various Lebanese families who have lived in Peoria. Semaan Trad, manager of the Itoo Hall, then entertained the audience with his personal story of the immigration from Lebanon to Peoria. In addition, Randy Couri gave an exceptionally educational talk about Lebanese surnames, the founding of the Itoo Reform and Progress Society, and the history of the annual Itoo Supper.

Semaan prepared an enormous feast for us, too! We were treated to a buffet of shish kabobs, Lebanese meatloaf, cabbage rolls, tabouli salad, hummus, pita bread, and, of course, baklava for dessert.

OLLI extends a big thank you to Semaan, Randy, and the staff at the Itoo Hall for organzing such a wonderful evening. For more information about the Itoo Hall, please visit its website.

Holocaust Museum and Baha'i Temple -- September 22, 2009

It was a day for contemplation and reflection when OLLI visited two important sites near Chicago: the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. OLLI instructor and retired architect Bennett Johnson joined us to point out some of the architectural details at each building.

Our day began with a private tour of the temple. One of only seven temples in the world, the unique structure stands for unity and invites prayer to God. The House of Worship in Wilmette was dedicated in 1953 after more than 30 years of construction. It is listed in the United States Register of Historic Places and has been designated as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois.

After lunch at Hackney's on Lake, we traveled to Skokie to tour the Holocaust Museum, which opened earlier this year. Architect Stanley Tigerman created the three-part building dedicated to Holocaust survivors. We entered through the dark side, where dark walls and sharp angles represent the "descent into darkness." The Room of Rememberance forms the building's hinge, and the German rail car residents in the dark cleave formed by the building's two halves. The third part of the building ascends into light, where rounded edges and rooflines delineate the area with exhibitions on post-war rescue and renewal.

During the tour, OLLI members spent the most time at the Zev and Shifra Karkomi Permanent Exhibition, which tells the story of the Holocaust from pre-war German life, through ghetto life and concentration camps, to eventual liberation and resettlement throughout the world.

It was an informative, set sobering, day of leanring. For more information about our stops, please visit these websites:

The Baha'i House of Worship
Hackney's on Lake
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Monday, September 21, 2009

Redefining Retirement -- September 19, 2009

More than 150 people traveled to Bradley's campus on September 19 to attend Redefining Retirement, a one-day workshop sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Bradley University.

The workshop was designed to help people create the best possible post-career life that reflects what they value today: staying healthy, sustaining financial comfort, and following passions.

A variety of experts made informative presentations throughout the day. Dr. Cynthia Barnett, author of Prime Time Makeover, began the day with a plenary session about the transition into retirement. Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin spoke about the changes relationships face during retirement, Kali Lightfoot talked about the importance of lifelong learning, and Marjorie Getz spoke about understanding the 50+ body.

In addition, Tom Rowley of Van Kampen Investments gave a lively luncheon talk about the retirement boom and resulting financial impact, Bill Kwon spoke about retirement investing, Jim Benckendorf gave good advice about estate planning, and Nancy Bell gave an overview of Medicare.

Finally, Dr. Larry Lindahl spoke about the mental and physical effects of retirement, followed by Donna Nordwall addressing the emotional aspects of retirement and Robin Albright discussing how blueprinting the future can help make dreams come true.

Bradley's Continuing Education developed the workshop in conjunction with an incredible group of community leaders, without whom the event would not have been possible: Francis Duren, Lori Fan, Loren Gallup, Blair Gorsuch, Jim Hooker, Bill Kwon, Jeff Nelson, Mary Ann Nelson, Michele Richey, and Randy Saxon.

Thanks also to the event sponsors: Bernard Osher Foundation, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Bradley University Center for Testing, CEFCU, and RSVP of Peoria and Tazewell Counties.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Presidential Museums Trip Day 8 -- September 15, 2009

Here is the final chapter to the story!!

This morning we had a little chance to sleep in and to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at our hotel. We boarded the charter coach and drove a short distance to tour the Steamboat Arabia Museum. In 1856, the Missouri River (“The Mighty Mo”) was the major route to the West from Kansas City, Missouri. The men usually went ahead of their families and set up places to live, established their businesses, and then sent word for the families to follow.

The Steamboat Arabia, like many other paddle wheelers, often carried tons of cargo (mostly building supplies, food, and household goods) along with passengers. Because the boats needed wood to fuel the boilers, which ran the paddle wheel, crew members often cuts trees from the banks of the river. The trunks remained along the banks and eventually died. When the tree trunks floated out into the river, they lodged in the mud with their tops standing up just under the water’s surface because of the strong current. One such tree punctured the hull of the Arabia, and the entire ship sank in five minutes. Fortunately, the only casualty was a mule that was tied at the stern. All of the goods on the ship were submerged under forty-five feet of muddy water.

About 135 years later, five men decided to look for the Arabia; however, because the Missouri River had changed course, the ship lay buried in a farmer’s field. The men labored for several months to salvage the buried treasure, and what they found - from before the Civil War - is displayed for all to enjoy at the Steamboat Arabia Museum. You can read more about the salvage operation and what they found at www.1856.com. The story is amazing, and we wish that we had scheduled more time for our visit there.

All together, we’ve spent seven nights in six different hotels in five different states and traveled just under 2500 miles to twelve sites in eight days…with a wonderful group of twenty-eight people. Special thanks to Bernie Drake, who suggested the trip and guided our learning about the presidents and two Civil War battle areas. Thanks also to Peoria Charter Coach and to their very professional driver, Jay Horvitz, who helped us at every turn along the way.

Stay tuned for the next adventure!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Presidential Museum Trip Day 7 -- September 14, 2009

Starting early this morning from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, we arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, in time to feast on a delicious barbecue buffet lunch at Jack Stack's Martin City location. Rather than settling in for naps after our big meal, we traveled to Independence, Missouri, to tour the Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum.

We learned that Harry Truman started from humble beginnings as a farmer and eventually became Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president.
Upon Roosevelt's dealth, Truman was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States. For many in our group, Truman was president during their high school years, so this particular stop was very meaningful.

After we left the Truman Museum, Bernie Drake directed our driver to an area where we learned about a Civil War battle that had occurred on a hillside near our hotel. The battle was the largest west of the Mississippi, and the area has been turned into a beautiful tree-filled park with walking paths.

All in all, we had a fun day full of learning and great food!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Presidential Museums Trip Day 6 -- September 13, 2009

Today was a sobering day for the group. We visited the Dallas Sixth Floor Museum in the old Texas Schoolbook Depository. Photography is not allowed so we don't have any pictures to share and, perhaps, it is for the best. No photos could accurately portray the feelings of being in the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy.

As we proceeded through the exhibits, we saw a timeline of events...from the arrival of Air Force One to the crowds in Dallas waving and welcoming President and Mrs. Kennedy. From the shooting, the funeral procession, and the lighting of the eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery to the reconstruction of the assassination and the Warren Report, we saw it all. The group was silent as we watched old television broadcasts, especially the one when Walter Cronkite's voice cracked as he announced the president's death to the nation. No one left the building untouched but we were glad that we experienced the Sixth Floor Museum.

Having started out in Austin, Texas and driving to Dallas to tour the Sixth Floor Museum, we ate a quick lunch and spent the rest of the day traveling from Dallas to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Today was a long and rainy day in our motor coach, and, after a delicious dinner at Islamorada (inside the Bass Pro Shop), we were ready to check into the hotel for the night.

Presidential Museums Trip Day 5 -- September 12, 2009

Today was all about Lyndon Baines Johnson. We arrived at the presidential museum and library as it opened this morning and started exploring right away. Bernie gave us some background information, and we had watched the introductory film on our motor coach yesterday as we traveled toward Austin. Located on the University of Texas campus, the building houses both the presidential museum and the library, but we were given access to the library displays only.

LBJ’s museum was a little different from the others we have visited because the various displays integrated the music and sounds of the time. We were amazed at the number of handwritten documents that were on display. Most of the group did not realize the number of bills that were passed during Johnson’s presidency. We learned about the clean air act, civil rights, Medicare, and many other laws that changed American history.

Lunch was interesting…the Waterloo Ice House had closed not long before we started our trip, so we adjusted and made a fast-food stop on our way to the LBJ Ranch, also known as the “Texas White House.” The rain stopped long enough for us to walk to Johnson’s birthplace and to his grave, which is nearby. On the ranch, a small private cemetery holds the remains of Johnson family members. Lady Bird Johnson’s grave is yet unmarked while her daughters decide on an appropriate marker. We were able to walk through the Johnson’s private residence, and we explored much of the rest of the farm.

On our way back to our hotel, we ate dinner at the Broken Spoke, a honky tonk place where the likes of Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and other country greats have performed. Although the facility has a large dance hall available for country dance lessons and dancing, we decided that we’d return to our hotel. We’ll be leaving early in the morning for Dallas and the John F. Kennedy Sixth Floor Museum.

Moons Over Peoria -- September 11, 2009

In its first-ever "night trip," OLLI traveled to Jubilee State Park for an evening of star-gazing with the Peoria Astronomical Society.

We celebrated the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of the telescope by viewing the summer Milky Way from the Decker-Grebner-Van Zandt Observatory. More than a dozen members of the Astronomical Society brought their personal telescopes so we could also view Jupiter and its moons, M13, M57, and Andromeda.

We were guided by Eric Clifton of the Peoria Astronomical Society, and joined by Illinois Central College profesor Brian Bill and his students.

For more information about the Peoria Astronomical Society, please visit www.astronomical.org

Presidential Museums Trip Day 4 -- September 11, 2009

The George H. W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library was our first stop of the day. We arrived just before the museum opened and entered a small theater to view a video about former President Bush’s life before, during, and after his presidency. Many of the exhibits detailed his careers beginning with his first as a very young pilot.

We learned about his diplomatic service, his political life, his love for Barbara, and his accomplishments as President of the United States. We also saw full-sized replicas of the Oval Office and a room based on the Camp David Retreat. President Bush’s limousine and Barbara Bush’s wedding dress were among other significant items on display.

One of the docents told us that George and Barbara Bush have decided to be buried near the library in a beautiful, peaceful garden, which has a large pond. Their first daughter died from leukemia at the age of three, and she is already buried in the family plot. In November of 2007, the library, which sits on the campus of Texas A & M, was re-opened after renovation, and former President Bush parachuted onto the grounds to celebrate.

After learning about our 41st president, we made a short drive to Rudy’s BBQ, today's lunch stop. From a menu full of things like brisket, ribs, and other barbecue fare, we ate some very tasty casual food and then settled in for a rainy, stormy drive to Austin. We had a little time to rest after we checked into our hotel and then drove to downtown Austin in search of B. D. Riley’s Pub for an authentic Irish dinner. Many of our group chose the recommended specialty - fish and chips. Owner John Erwin delighted the group with a brief history of the building and some additional dinner suggestions. We ended the evening fairly early and returned to the hotel for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we'll visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Museum and Johnson City, the location of LBJ's ranch.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Presidential Museum Trip Day 3 -- September 10, 2009

Our third day of travel started at the Texarkana Post Office, which sits in two different states with two different zip codes. Bernie told us that this particular Post Office is the most-photographed of all in the USA.

After a quick photo, we boarded the charter coach for Longview, Texas, the home of LeTourneau University. R. G. LeTourneau was a very talented inventor who developed new ways to move earth. At one time, he had a factory in Peoria, Illinois in the spot where Komatsu now stands. We learned that, in spite of LeTourneau's lack of a formal education, he was quite an accomplished engineer. So what was the connection to our learning about the presidents? Zapata, George H. W. Bush's oil company, funded the manufacturing of LeTourneau's moveable oil platform, an invention that is still in use today.

After a delicious lunch at McKay's Ranch House in Longview, we headed off to Kilgore, Texas, home of the East Texas Oil Museum and the home of the "Rangerettes." Our group split up, and half went to learn about oil while the rest went to learn about high kicks!

After driving from Texarkana, Arkansas to College Station, Texas, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Luigi's Patio Ristorante and settled in for a good night's sleep at our hotel.

Firefighting 101 -- September 10, 2009

One day before the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, OLLI members visited the Vernon "Butch" Gudat Fire Training Academy in Peoria.

Chief Greg Walters and Captain Marty Baker welcomed the group to the academy, and discussed the history of the Peoria Fire Department. The academy, which opened in 1978, hosts classes and training sessions for local, state, and federal agencies, including a seven-week mandatory training course for all new firefighters.

The academy was renamed after Chief Gudat in 1983, after his death in the line of duty earlier that year. The academy is also home to the actual firebox that was pulled at that fire.

There are 12 fire stations within the Peoria Fire Department, responsible for covering 50 square miles of the city. The department, which is on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, answers nearly 18,000 emergency calls annually. Firefighters work a 24/48 shift, meaning they work 24 hours on, then 48 hours off.

Firefighters are required to have a high school diploma or GED, and must be 18 years old to apply for a job (19 years old to be hired). Chief Walters said the position of Peoria firefighters are one of the most sought-after jobs in the area; more than 700 applications are received each time there is an opening at the department.

During the demonstration part of our visit, Chief Walters explained that a fire, left unchecked by doors or walls, doubles in size every 90 seconds. That exponential growth rate makes response times incredibly important -- Walters says the PFD's average response time of 4-6 minutes is excellent when compared to national averages.

Captain Baker showed OLLI members the protective equipment each firefighter must don before responding to every call. That equipment, which fully encapsulates the firefighters, includes a kevlar helmet with harness, fire-resistant pants and coats, Nomex protective hoods, boots, gloves, mask, and oxygen tank. The equipment, a far cry from the old leather helmets and rubber coats once worn by firefighters, costs approximately $9,000 per firefighter. The PFD employs approximately 200 firefighters.

Several adventurous OLLI'vers took a turn putting out fires at the burn pad. First, they were trained on the basics of using a fire extinguisher. Chief Walters said to remember just four letters: PASS. P - pull the pin, A -- aim the nozzle at the bottom of the fire, S -- squeeze the handle, and S -- sweep side to side. Two trays were ignited with a mixture of diesel and gasoline, and five brave OLLI members took their turn at extinguishing the flames.

OLLI extends a big thanks to Chief Walters, Captain Baker, and Captain Buckingham for being incredibly gracious hosts for our group. For more information about the Peoria Fire Department, please visit www.ci.peoria.il.us/firedepartment

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Presidential Museums Trip Day 2 -- September 9, 2009

On the second day of our trip, we left West Memphis, Arkansas and drove to Little Rock to tour the William Clinton Presidential Museum.

The contents include memorabilia from Bill and Hillary's childhoods through their years in the White House. Multimedia presentations play on screens throughout the museum, and our group enjoyed pulling out the schedule books to read what the president's activities included for certain dates.

After lunch in downtown Little Rock, we boarded the motorcoach again and drove to Hope, Arkansas to visit "Billy" Clinton's boyhood home.

Margaret Berryman expertly guided our tour and gave us many inside bits of information about Clinton's early years. Upon arrival at the visitor's center, we experienced some southern hospitality when we were offered cookies, lemonade, and some goodie bags. The people who care for the site were very warm and friendly, and they made our visit one of the most enjoyable so far.

By the end of the day, we were in Texarkana, Arkansas, which is inches from Texarkana, Texas. Our long day ended with dinner at Zapata's, a Mexican restaurant, and no one left hungry!

We're off to two mystery sites in Texas tomorrow. Bernie Drake gave a series of clues, and Don Moore was the first person to correctly guess our destination. If you want to know where we're going, you'll have to check the Thursday blog!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Peoria Zoo-OLLI-gy -- September 8, 2009

It was another beautiful day for OLLI as we took a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the Peoria Zoo.

Our zoo guides, Julie and Lydia, escorted us around the recently renovated zoo, and showed us the animal kitchen, sea lion kennels, giraffe barns, and the new Africa! lodge.

The new Africa! exhibit cost $27.5 million to construct, and was open to the public on June 6, 2009. Approximately $5 million more needs to be raised to complete the construction.

For more information about the zoo, please visit www.peoriazoo.com

Fall 2009 OLLI Luncheon -- September 9, 2009

More than 300 OLLI members celebrated the beginning of the Fall 2009 season by attending the 15th annual Kickoff Luncheon on Wednesday, September 9 at the Michel Student Center at Bradley University.

Following a piano prelude by OLLI member Norma Gangloff, members were welcomed to campus by Continuing Education Executive Director Janet Lange. Our 2008-2009 OLLI Student Volunteer of the Year, Michelle Kosner, made some brief comments about her award-winning program Paws Giving Independence, a group that rescues dogs from animal shelters and trains them to become service dogs for individuals with disabilities.

After enjoying a lunch of tossed green salad with pear slices and walnuts, chicken provencale, au gratin potatoes, broccoli Normandy, and pumpkin surprise, OLLI members welcomed their keynote speaker -- who just happens to be the daughter of OLLI Treasurer Jim Kostas!

Patti A. French, functional director for flight software at United Space Alliance, LLC, gave an interesting and educational presentation about the space shuttle program, the international space station, and other NASA projects.

She explained how the shuttle program, now more than a quarter-century old, has launched 72 satellites into space. The program also delivered the Hubble space telescope in 1990, and has followed up with four additional serving visits to the telescope. The majority of work for the shuttle at present is assembling and maintaining the international space station.

Patti also walked us through the amazing facts of a shuttle launch: at liftoff, the shuttle weighs 4.5 million pounds and accelerates up to 18,000 miles per hour (37 million horsepower) to reach orbit. She is personally responsible for developing software changes that can be uploaded to the orbiting shuttle when problems occur during flight (such as malfunctioning alarm systems).

Lastly, Patti listed just a few of the innovations made possible due to the nation's space program, including: noninvasive medical imaging, implantable heart and insulin pumps, artificial hearts, communication satellites, and land mine removal techniques.

A special thanks goes to our Luncheon Committee for planning such a wonderful day: Lucy McCrea, Coordinator; Ruth Bowden, Carolyn Hancock, Merilynn Hyland, and Nancy Taylor.

Presidential Museums Trip Day One -- September 8, 2009

Today we made our first stop of the eight-day Presidential Museums Tour at Grant's Farm in St. Louis. As we rode down the highway, Bernie Drake gave us some background on Grant's life, and our park rangers told some wonderful stories as we toured the property.

Originally owned by Frederick Dent's family and built in 1820 as a summer home, the St. Louis farm home was known as "White Haven."

Ulysses S. Grant often visited a West Point schoolmate, a son of Frederick Dent, after graduation and met Julia Dent, who became the love of his life. After a secret proposal on the front porch, Ulysses went off to war. Upon his return, Ulysses and Julia married and had four children. With the intention of retiring at White Haven, the Grants purchased the farm from Julia's father and siblings in the 1860's but moved to the White House in 1869 when Grant became president. They never returned to White Haven, choosing, instead, to call New York home.

After a two-hour drive to Sikeston, Missouri, we enjoyed lunch at Lambert's, "the only home of throwed rolls." We started with fried okra served on paper towels and then we heard someone yell, "Hot rolls!!" We stuck our hands high in the air, and the servers expertly tossed the hot yeast rolls to us. Some caught the flying food and others fumbled, but we all had fun. We also had the opportunity to try turnip greens, hog jowls, fried potatoes and onions, macaroni and tomatoes, and other Southern fare. No one left hungry because the portions were huge.

We settled into our hotel right on schedule at 5:00 p.m. and decided we needed to rest up for tomorrow's adventure to Bill Clinton's Presidential Museum in Little Rock and his boyhood home in Hope, Arkansas.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Springfield's Hidden Treasures -- September 2, 2009

OLLI's first trip of the Fall 2009 season was a success -- we had gorgeous weather, a variety of interesting educational experiences, great food, and all day to learn about the hidden treasures in our state capitol.

The day started with a tour of the Museum of Funeral Customs, located next to the main entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Although more than 500,000 visitors pass through the gates of the cemetery each year, the museum has had to close due to lack of interest and income. The museum is in the hands of the Illinois Funeral Home Directors Association, which is attempting to reopen the museum on a full-time basis. Fortunately for OLLI, the museum director, Duane Marsh, agreed to let us visit and see the unique (and sometimes macabre) exhibits.

The exhibits included a home funeral parlor, circa 1865, a woman's mourning dress, a 1913 hearse carriage, goverment-issued headstones for Civil War soldiers, an embalming room from the late 1920s, and a replica of President Lincoln's coffin and funeral route.

Of particular interest were the restorative materials and prosthetics once used by morticians, such as wax noses, ears, and eyelids. We learned the difference between coffins and caskets (the latter are curved), the mourning practices of various religions, and some of the rigid rules governing dress after a death in the 19th century (all black for up to two years, including buttons, pins, and brooches).

After a short visit to Oak Ridge Cemetery's Korean, Vietnam, and World War II memorials and Lincoln's tomb, we traveled to beautiful Washington Park for a private tour of the Rees Memorial Carillon. Opened in 1962, the 10-story open tower has 67 cast bronze bells covering a range of 5 1/2 chromatic octaves. The carillon was cast by the 300-year-old bellfoundry of Petit & Fritsen, Ltd.,in Aarle-Rixtel, The Netherlands. All of the bells are played manually by means of the keyboard located in the carillonneur's cabin.

For lunch, we stopped at Saputo's, a Springfield tradition and a favorite destination for traveling dignitaries, celebrities, and politicians. Our buffet menu included chicken parmigana, homemade ravioli, baked mostaccioli, rigatoni alfredo, Italian meatballs, salad, and spumoni. A big thank you to Jackie, our server, for serving us so quickly and catering to our every need!

After lunch, we drove to Camp Lincoln, headquarters of the Illinois National Guard, to tour the Illinois State Military Museum. We viewed exhibits that covered the actions of the military in Illinois from early militia through current military operations throughout the world. The collection included the artificial leg of Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna; the wooden target board that President Abraham Lincoln used to test fire the Spencer rifle in 1863; and the entire collection of weapons, flags, uniforms, and personal effects associated with Union General John A. Logan. It also featured an exhibit case containing the names and images of fallen heroes of the Illinois Army and Air National Guard from the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few brave OLLI members even sat in a cockpit trainer for an F-16 Fighting Falcon used by the Illinois Air National Guard.

The last stop of the day was at the state fairgrounds, wherein lies the Illinois Fire Museum. Open to the public since 1994 by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the Illinois Fire Museum is home to one of the nation's largest fire department patch collections. The museum is actually located in a fire station built in 1938, and houses an authentic 1857 horse drawn hand pumper, complete with water buckets. The antique pumper is parked next to a shiny brass fire pole once used by state fairgrounds firefighters.

OLLI thanks all of our tour guides and hosts at each site for making our visit to Springfield a fabulous one!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kickapoo Creek Winery -- August 19, 2009

On August 19, more than 40 OLLI members spent a beautiful summer afternoon at the Kickapoo Creek Winery in Edwards, Illinois.

After lunch in the banquet facility, owner/winemaker Dave Conner hosted the group for a personalized tour of his breathtaking winery. Conner, a retired orthopedic surgeon, opened Kickapoo Creek Winery in 2005. The winery consists of 13 acres, including nine different vineyards.

There are 500 plants per acre; each acre of plants produces between three and six tons of grapes. In 2008, the winery produced 42 tons of 19 varieties of grapes. Each ton equates to 750 bottles of wine!

During the tour, Dr. Conner explained the production process, and showed the group the machinery used to crush the grapes and bottle the wine. After our visit to the production room, we were treated to a tasting of three of the 24 varieties of wine produced onsite.

To conclude our visit, we boarded the Grape Train for a ride through the vineyards. Dr. Conner's timing was impeccable -- we finished our tour and boarded the Bradley vans just in time to avoid the approaching thunderstorm.

OLLI extends a big thank you to Dr. Conner and his staff at the Kickapoo Creek Winery for a wonderful day of wine and learning!

For more information about Kickapoo Creek Winery, please visit www.kickapoocreekwinery.com

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monsanto & Botanical Garden -- August 5

On Wednesday, August 5, OLLI traveled to St. Louis for a tour of a Monsanto research center and the Missouri Botanical Garden,

Our first stop was the Monsanto Chesterfield Village Research Center, one of the world’s largest facilities devoted to plant biotechnology. The facility includes 250 laboratories, more than 100 plant growth chambers, and two acres of greenhouse space. Top researchers from around the world work at the facility to help achieve sustainable agriculture and to help make possible the vision of abundant food in a healthy environment.

Our tour of the facility began with an overview of the site and the science presentation, followed by a two-hour walking tour of the building. We learned about Monsanto's resources and tools of biotechnology, and how they translate the science into products to benefit farmers, processors and consumers. A few of the topics discussed included insect-protected crops, using Bt technology, and herbicide-tolerant crops, using Roundup Ready technology, and how Monsanto’s R&D pipeline delivers future ag products.

We also visited the greenhouses, growth chambers, laboratories, and got a close look at the gene-gun. Monsanto's expert tour guides also introduced us to the language of biotechnology, the process of gene discovery, and traditional plant breeding techniques.

Following a delicious lunch at Zia's on the Hill, we headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden for a private tour of the city's oasis, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2009. Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark. The Garden offers 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home, and one of the world's largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.

Chicago Segway Tour -- July 29

A dozen members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Bradley University (OLLI) toured the Chicago lakefront on July 29. Unlike past trips, however, the over-50 students didn't bike. They didn't hike, either. Instead, they glided along the lakefront and museum campus on Segways, the world's first self-balancing, electric-powered transportation machines.

The OLLI group donned helmets and safety vests, then had a training session in a small park adjacent to Michigan Avenue. After a few minutes of practice, they took a private, two-hour tour of the lakefront, visiting Millennium Park, Daley Bicentennial Plaza, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium, Buckingham Fountain, and the Rose Gardens of Grant Park.

The tour docents shared fascinating stories about the Windy City during the trip, delighting the group with tales about the Great Chicago Fire, President Obama's stirring election night acceptance speech in Grant Park, and more.

"Everything about the trip was educational, from learning about the history of the city to learning how to handle the Segway," said OLLI member (and recent BU retiree) Dr. Fred Fry.

The Segway experience is just another example of how OLLI members are on the go!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Peoria Journal Star -- July 16, 2009

OLLI member Bernie Drake wore two hats -- one literally -- during our tour of the Peoria Journal Star. Bernie, a longtime OLLI member who also volunteers as a PJS tour guide, led our group on a visit to the building.

Peoria's newspaper history started on December 10, 1855 as the Peoria Daily Transcript. In 1954, the the Peoria Star and Peoria Transcript merged to form the Journal Star, and was housed in the building still located at One News Plaza.

At one time, more than 100 people worked in the newsroom as reporters, editors, artists, and photographers (there are approximately 65 people in the newsroom today). Advertising accounts for 75% of the newspaper's revenue. The new Man Roland press began production in the new 64,000 square-foot press room on October 25, 2004. The press can produce up to 70,000 newspapers per hour.

OLLI would like to thank John Plevka, managing editor, for taking the time to speak with us at the end of our tour. We enjoyed learning about the editorial process, issues facing print journalism in today's society, and the advent of internet news.

For more information about the Peoria Journal Star, please visit www.pjstar.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Springdale Picnic & Concert -- July 10, 2009

It’s an annual tradition – the OLLI summer social.

This year, however, we added a bit of a twist. We started the social with an early evening tour of historic Springdale Cemetery, the resting place of many Peoria legends, including Bradley University founder Lydia Moss Bradley. OLLI member Bernie Drake and Peoria Historical Society President Marilyn Leyland were our docents for the outstanding tour.

After the tour, we gathered at Glen Oak Park for a gourmet picnic dinner, trivia, and croquet. We ended the evening with a first-of-its-kind concert at Springdale by the Peoria Municipal Band.

Chicago Bike & Hike -- July 8, 2009

In this first-of-its-kind trip, we traveled to Chicago to learn about the city … on bike and on foot!

The day started with a leisurely biking tour of lakefront neighborhoods, where we got a peek at Gold Coast mansions, Oprah’s home, the former Playboy Mansion, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Old Town Historic District.

Our tour guide, Scott, made many stops along the way for photos, water breaks, and interesting stories about these Windy City landmarks.

After lunch at Lizzie McNeill’s (we had to sit inside due to the inclement weather), we headed to Michigan Avenue for a private, early evening walking tour of Chicago’s historic skyscrapers.

Docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation took us in and around several world famous early skyscrapers, including the Rookery, which boasts a restored Frank Lloyd Wright interior.

Fired Up -- June 30, 2009

Art helps everyone learn, and the owners of Fired Up, a paint-your-own pottery and art studio, showed us how they have turned their passion for learning into a successful business in downtown Peoria Heights.

After the tour, OLLI members (and their younger guests) had two hours of private studio time to paint – and keep – their own pottery mugs. After working up an appetite with our creative work, we walked next door to Emack & Bolio’s for a delicious ice cream treat.

It was an afternoon of intergenerational learning at its best!

Spirit of Peoria with Dr. Michael Wiant -- June 27, 2009

More than 60 participants marked another OLLI first -- a summer learning trip!

We spent a beautiful summer afternoon cruising along the picturesque Illinois River on the state’s only authentic paddle-wheeler, the Spirit of Peoria.

During the two-hour excursion, which included a full buffet lunch, Dr. Michael Wiant, Dickson Mounds Museum Director, gave an exclusive presentation on the Illinois River.

His fascinating stories about cultural, historical, and geological events helped to illustrate the character of the Illinois River and trace its interaction with the people who have lived along it.

A Midsummer Night's Dream -- June 25, 2009

OLLI was front and center at the opening night gala of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Young lovers, spirits, and mythic royalty were conjured up in an enticing mix of poetry, wide-eyed fairy magic, and the madness of love in Shakespeare's most popular comedy. It portrayed the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens, and with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.

Dr. Susan Hillabold, who taught a Shakespeare class for OLLI Winterim ’09, accompanied our group to enrich our understanding of the play’s subtleties. She gave us some hints of what to look for before the performance, and then summarized some of the complexities on the way home.

At the venue, we enjoyed a gourmet catered picnic dinner, a personalized backstage tour by the actors, a pre-performance jazz show, and the performance itself. It was a warm evening, but another great OLLI night!

182nd Airlift Wing -- June 23, 2009

Day in and day out, C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft leave Peoria destined for locations all over the world. Whether delivering humanitarian supplies to Hurricane Katrina victims or air dropping food and ammunition in the middle of the night to our Special Operations Forces engaged throughout Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror, the citizen-airmen of the 182nd Airlift Wing, Peoria Air National Guard, are always proudly representing the Heart of Illinois.

During our visit, OLLI had a chance to see some of these professionals in action as we toured the maintenance, operations, and security facilities. The base houses 38 buildings on 334 leased acres -- property worth over $120 million (without counting the equipment). Over 600 members of the 182nd have toured more than 13 countries in varying theatres since 2001. In fact, after this year's devastating earthquake in Iran, a plane from Peoria (carrying humanitarian supplies) was the first American aircraft to land in the country in several decades.

Colonel William Robertson ('83), the Wing Commander, also provided an aircraft tour and presented a short briefing about the 182nd Airlift Wing's missions involving the global war on terror, humanitarian support, and homeland security missions.

OLLI thanks Col. Robertson and his incredible staff for a wonderful day of learning. For more information about the 182nd Airlift Wing, please visit: www.182aw.ang.af.mil

Monday, July 13, 2009

Geology Hike -- June 19, 2009

During our most active trip yet, OLLI enjoyed a spectacular day of outdoor adventure in Utica led by Ed Stermer, assistant professor of earth science at Illinois Central College.

Our first stop was Buffalo Rock State Park, located on a bluff which was once an island in the Illinois River. Now standing majestically on the north bank, this 280-acre promontory afforded a magnificent sweeping view of the Illinois River. While exploring, we learned about the geologic history and mineral resources of the region.

After an hour at Buffalo Rock, we headed to the Starved Rock Lock & Dam Visitors’ Center, where we spent an hour meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers and touring their facility.

After absorbing a wealth of knowledge at the visitors' center, we drove to the Starved Rock Lodge for a delicious hot buffet lunch. OLLI had the chance to see preparations for a Friday afternoon wedding at the lodge, and some of us did a bit of quick shopping at the gift shop, too.

We then hit the trails within Starved Rock to visit and discuss the 18 canyons that sliced dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs. We saw and learned more about the park’s rock formations, primarily St. Peter Sandstone, the historic site of the siege, starvation, and demise of the entire Illini tribe.

Our final stop was a bit of fossil hunting just off the highway, where many members found rocks with embedded remnants of insects and other fossils. Many thanks to Ed Stermer for his fabulous commentary and guidance during our adventure.

Wildlife Prairie Park -- June 10, 2009

OLLI’s first hiking trip was an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Wildlife Prairie State Park, a 2,000-acre zoological park just outside of Peoria.

More than a dozen members joined us on the walking trails for an hour-long guided hike. We stopped at the various animal exhibits, and learned about the native plant and animal species, the bison and elk pasture, and the Sandhill Cranes in Walden Pond.

After a short break, we enjoyed an informative birds of prey exhibition followed by a personalized, behind-the-scenes look at the educational animals used at the park. The park’s staff showed us how they feed and care for the animals, explained how they rehabilitate injured birds, and provided opportunities to see individual animal enclosures.

Afterward, we had the unique opportunity to be the first group served lunch at the new Prairie Grille at the park. The lunch was delicious, and the chef and staff are to be commended for the attention to our OLLI members.

For more information, visit Wildlife Prairie State Park on the web:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nancy Pearl Lecture -- June 8

Nancy Pearl, an award-winning author, celebrated librarian, and regular commentator on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," delighted an audience of 100 during a lecture at Bradley University on June 8.

During the hour-long program, Nancy shared the origins of her love of reading and libraries, explained how her two Book Lust books came to be written, and even talked about the "perils" of a life of reading.

Pearl, who grew up in an unhappy home in lower-middle-class Detroit, spent most of her childhood and adolescence at the Parkman Branch Library, immersing herself in a world of books and the comfort of kindly librarians. At the age of 10, she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: a librarian.

"I wanted others to find books to love as much as I'd loved them," she said. "I believe there is a book that will turn everyone into a reader."

After college, she became a children's librarian and author, penning the well-known Book Lust and More Book Lust, guides to must-read books in hundreds of quirky categories.

She said that although Book Lust listed approximately 1,800 books in 175 categories, she felt guilty about the more the books and authors who were left off the list. "I asked my readers to write in and tell me what I left out," she noted. "I expected five people to write, but got hundreds of emails from people who each listed 200 books I left out."

As a result, a follow-up to Book Lust was requested from her publisher. Pearl, who joked that it should have been titled Book Lust 2: The Morning After, included another 1,200 books in the sequel.

Pearl then ticked off a list of four "perils" to a life of reading:

1. When you learn your vocabulary through a life of reading, you never really know how to pronounce anything. She joked that for years, she pronounced words incorrectly, including segue (see-goo-ey), misled (mice-eld), and belle (belly). When asked how she could possibly mispronounce so many words despite her voracious reading appetite, Pearl responded, "I just tell people I have a reader's vocabulary, not a speaker's vocabulary."

2. When engrossed in a good book and you run into a word you don't know, you often are too lazy to look up the meaning in a dictionary. Pearl related a highly amusing anecdote about context when she told that audience that after reading a book where a character died of consumption, she immediately asked herself, "Well, who ate her?"

3. When enamored of an author and you read book after book in a series, you may begin speaking in a manner that confuses your friends. She said when she was reading the Master and Commander series, set in the early 19th century, she began saying "ahoy" instead of "hello" and getting all kinds of strange looks from others.

4. The most serious peril, according to Pearl, is never being certain if memories are those of your own or those of characters in books you've read. For instance, when describing a dress she wore to her junior prom, Pearl instead began describing the dress worn by a character in the book Double Date. "As a result," she said, "I don't think I remember a thing from my high school years."

At the end of her presentation, she answered questions from the audience. In response to a question about "abandoning" a bad book, Pearl had the following piece of advice: Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50 says that if you're under the age of 50, you've read the first 50 pages in a book, and care only about who marries who or who killed who, turn to the last page. If you're over 50, subtract your age from 100, and that's how many pages you should read before giving up on a book.

"There's nothing that rewards us better for getting older," she explained, "because when you turn 100 you really can then judge a book by its cover."

Nancy Pearl's appearance at Bradley University was made possible in part by Continuing Education and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chicago Gangster Tour -- June 3, 2009

On June 3, 25 OLLI members had yet another unique learning experience: The Chicago Gangster Tour, a trip back in time to experience Chicago during the Roaring Twenties.

Upon arrival in the Windy City, “Shakespeare,” a loud, wisecracking step-on tour guide nattily dressed in a pinstriped suit, suspenders, and fedora, delighted OLLI members with fascinating anecdotes about Chicago’s windiest politicians, rollicking red-light districts, and notorious mobsters as the bus cruised in search of old hoodlum haunts, brothels, gambling dens, and sites of infamous gangland shootouts.

Shakespeare led a two-hour, fact-filled tour of the city, driving past well-known landmarks such as Holy Name Cathedral, which still has a bullet hole in the limestone fa├žade from the assassination of Hymie Weiss; the former Lexington Hotel (otherwise known as “Capone’s Castle”), which Al Capone used as his headquarters; and through Levy District (formerly known as The Devil’s Mile), where vice and corruption once led to a crime rate higher than the rest of the country combined.

The tour took OLLI through Chinatown, Little Sicily, and the neighborhood of Pilsen, home to a building that once housed the famous Schoenhofen Brewery. The building itself is full of lore: Capone used it to brew legal “near beer” then spiked it with rot-gun whiskey; Frank Lloyd Wright once called the structure the perfect example of prairie architecture in America; and it was used during the filming of the orphanage scenes in The Blues Brothers movie.

Seemingly mundane neighborhoods were revealed as the sites of notorious assassinations during the 14 years of Prohibition. An innocuous parking lot on Clark Street was pointed out as the site of the city’s worst mafia murder: the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Al Capone’s elaborate 1929 scheme to kill enemy Bugs Moran. The site has been a parking lot since 1969, when former Mayor Daley tore down the garage to improve the city’s image.

Shakespeare had plenty of anecdotes about the gangsters, too. For instance, the term “bootlegging” was coined by Deanie O’Bannion, a gangster who would hide samples of liquor in 5 oz. flasks in his boots and share them during mass at Holy Name Cathedral. Immigrants from Sicily were employed by Angelo Genna and his five brothers as “alky cookers,” earning $15 a day mixing ingredients for rot-gut whiskey in 5-gallon copper stills. Workers kept $14 of their earnings; the other dollar went to the “flower fund,” used to purchase funeral flowers for employees who were killed during frequent explosions during the cooking process.

It was the anecdotes about the Al Capone, however, that intrigued OLLI members the most. They learned that Capone once sent $10,000 and flowers to a woman injured during an attempt on his life; kidnapped a pianist, forced him to play at his speakeasy for three days, then let him leave after shoving $20,000 in his pocket; and bought a belt that spelled out “Thanks From Al” in diamonds for a newspaper reporter who tipped him about upcoming government raids.

After the tour, the OLLI group headed to Tommy Gun's Garage, Chicago’s only speakeasy dinner theater, for lunch and a musical comedy revue that featured gangsters, flappers, and a raid by the cops. One lucky member of the group, John Maher, was taken on stage for an interactive "sobriety test" and radio show.

Barn Lunch & Learn -- May 21, 2009

It was another spectacular day for a learning trip on May 15, when 23 members attended the Barn Lunch & Learn event.

The day began with breakfast in the Alumni Dining Room, followed by a two-hour presentation by renowned barn expert Bob Sherman. His lecture included information about the American barn's European antecedents, an examination of the nomenclature, and a discussion of the functional uses of farm structures.

Participants then boarded a charter coach to look at rural structures and farmsteads throughout Peoria County. The first stop was the Hauk farmstead, which has been in the same family for more than 150 years. The barn, constructed in 1850, includes hand-hewn timbers and hay mow areas currently used for storage. The rustic corn crib was built in 1905 to hold earn corn for livestock feeding. Today, the crib is used for storage, since corn in shelled in the field by modern combines and stored in closed metal corn bins.

Other stops included the Howarth barn and house, circa 1844, one of only 12 stone structures in the county during the 19th century; the Tom Coyle farm near Trivoli; the Phelps barn in Elmwood, and the Virgil Janssen barn in Hanna City.

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