• Friday, April 10, 2020 2:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    From the Editor

    We Will “Zoom” Through the Corona Virus Emergency

    OLLI life has been upended but it hasn’t stopped.

    Like a majority of learning institutions, we’re keeping as much going as possible through online capabilities. Many of our classes and other activities are becoming “virtual” in this spring term. And many of us are becoming acquainted with apps that enable us to communicate with individuals and in groups via desktop, laptop, iPhone, tablet and other devices. The idea is to maintain “social separation” to avoid the dreaded coronavirus – but we don’t want social isolation. 

    With both state and national emergencies in effect and with an abundance of caution, OLLI President Barbara Lane and OLLI Executive Director Megan Whilden made the decision that OLLI would offer online classes to substitute for classroom meetings. Nearly half of the instructors who were scheduled to teach this term have agreed to give online presentations.

    We’re doing it with ZOOM, an easy-to-download application that enables audio and video teleconferencing. You may already be aware of the various classes (online of course) on how to use ZOOM that have been offered to OLLI members.

    I’m far from being a techie, so imagine my surprise when I found I was able to download and log on to ZOOM with little trouble. This site provides an easy-to-download icon for your computer’s toolbar so you can click on to a meeting with little work.  If you have bandwidth limitations, as those of us living out in the sticks do, you can dial in to the audio-only portion, or you can call in and participate conference-call style. 

    Hats off to all concerned for saving our spring semester. Pandemic or no pandemic, learning at OLLI goes on.

    Classes will be the usual 90 minutes duration, and thanks to ZOOM, participants can ask questions and have exchanges with their instructors. If you paid for a course or courses before the online alternative was put in place and prefer not to do your course on line, you have three options: Request a credit for a course you can take when we return to “actual” classrooms; Get a refund; or Donate the course fee to OLLI (which can certainly use the cash).

    Along with our virtual catalog, we are offering a virtual OLLI Update, to keep you abreast of our organization’s happenings.

    Whether you’re a newcomer to OLLI or an “old hand” be sure to read Peter Bluhm’s article, “What Makes OLLI Tick?”. You’re sure to learn a good deal. Our president, Barbara Lane takes a light view of the online experience with a piece on her “Virtual Cocktail Party,” that sets the scene for our own virtual classes. Read about Will Singleton, one of OLLI’s directors, and his concern about “A Racial Divide in America.”  

    You don’t have to be a folk-music aficionado to enjoy Kathy Zdeb’s piece on Doug Mishkin and the course he will be teaching on folk artists in the tradition of Woody Guthrie. But if you are an aficionado, you will really appreciate learning about Mishkin’s background.  And you can keep up with OLLI’s audiophiles if you’re into circuit design and other critical factors that make for “Absolute Sound” in stereo equipment by reading Peter Bluhm’s “A Day in the Life of OLLI’s Absolute Sound SIG.”

    Also learn about members who have been tapped by OLLI’s governance committee to serve on our Board of Directors. Their election by the full OLLI membership will take place at our annual meeting later this year.

    I close with heartfelt wishes for your continued good health and I look forward to seeing many of you through ZOOM before too long.

    • -          Chris Guidette


  • Friday, April 10, 2020 2:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Virtual Cocktail Party for OLLI Friends is Strictly BYOB and D (Device)

    Hi everyone,

    My husband Ed and I recently attended a virtual cocktail party along with three other couples.  We’re all good friends living in close proximity to one another, and we really miss getting together.  Like so many things in our social lives since retiring to the Berkshires, there’s an OLLI connection.

    OLLI lecturer Chris Ferrero and her husband Marty Sennett arrived dressed for the occasion, and put the rest of us to shame sartorially.  Lecturer Stewart Edelstein and his wife Lynn were hosting the party until they suddenly disappeared from our computer screens.  After phone calls back and forth and some frantic machinations, they did somehow magically reappear.  (Okay, none of us are Zoom pros YET!)  Terry Moor, another of our amazing lecturers, and his wife Susan told us of the months they spent living and traveling in India.  I also learned that Terry and I are both fans of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti mystery series.

    Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  With a little creativity and imagination, and a willingness to experiment with technology, we found a way to check in and share more than a few laughs with some very dear friends. And I’ve learned, as perhaps you have too, that virtual get-togethers … virtual happy hours and virtual forms of just about every other kind of interaction among people are becoming commonplace.

    In fact, we’re keeping our OLLI spring semester alive by offering a number of courses on line that had been scheduled for various classrooms. I hope you are registered for some of them.

    I’ll close by lifting my virtual wine glass to each of you.  Let’s keep finding creative ways to stay in touch until we can “actually” share a glass together.

    All my best,

    Barbara Lane


  • Friday, April 10, 2020 1:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    OLLI’s Will Singleton on the Racial Divide in America: “Replace Racism with Humanism”

    Will Singleton, an active member of OLLI’s Board of Directors, a teacher, and frequent panel moderator at OLLI University Days, as well as the former president of the Berkshire branch of the NAACP, is concerned about racial relations on the local, everyday level in the Berkshires. 

    In January, Singleton led a community forum at the Berkshire Athenaeum focused on discrimination by local businesses and the need for education to end its occurrence.  Local young and men and women spoke about their experiences of discrimination while shopping, attending events or in restaurants.  Speakers told of their being watched by storeowners as they shopped, being accused of theft and being ignored in restaurants as white people were served ahead of them. 

    Business leaders who attended this discussion agreed that education was needed to change this attitude toward blacks and other minorities; they proposed including training sessions for employees on the importance of treating all people with respect

    Singleton noted, however, “It should be pointed out these concerns about racist acts do not apply to all businesses in Berkshire County. I believe most business establishments in the county treat all of their customers fairly.”

    In a recent interview, Singleton cited a Pew Research Center report of 2019 to substantiate his views on the continued existence of social, economic, political and racial divisions in America. 

    According to this report about 80 percent of black people think America has not gone far enough in acknowledging that black people should share the same rights white people.  In addition a majority of Americans of all types – whites, blacks, Hispanics - think race relations are not good and many think they’re getting worse.  The issue involves not only legal situations where discrimination laws are broken or where minorities are unfairly treated by the criminal justice system, but also on the personal level where people are insensitive to the ways their comments and attitudes affect and continue the racial divide in our country.

    Singleton also said he thinks that the long history of racism, stereotyping and discrimination in our country makes the process of changing these practices very challenging.  He said he believes that we should start on the personal level by replacing racism with humanism: “I think we should all learn as much as possible about the different groups that make up the great variety of people we have living in America.  However, treating each other like we want to be treated does not require extensive reading, study, research or workshops.  It is really all about recognizing the humanity in every human being with whom we make contact."

    OLLI continues to rely on Singleton as a leader and supports his efforts to make broad appeals for equality in our everyday interactions and in our community.   

    by Joanna Fribush

  • Friday, April 10, 2020 1:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Doug Mishkin Teaches “Songs of Woody’s Children” ~ Folk Music that Comforts and Afflicts

    Computers and other devices will be alive with the sound of music on Tuesdays this spring via OLLI’s online courses when Doug Mishkin of Egremont, a lawyer by profession and singer-songwriter by avocation, will teach “The Songs of Woody’s Children.” This accomplished musician’s class encapsulates the folk tradition post-Woody Guthrie.

    Mishkin inherited his love of folk music naturally, imprinted by a mother who took the fourth grader to his first Pete Seeger concert, and a father who called folksingers the nation’s conscience.

    A summer spent at a camp in Great Barrington when he was 14 galvanized the young Mishkin’s interest. He heard new songs that spoke to him: works by Tom Paxton, Peter, Paul and Mary, Phil Ochs and a young fellow with a familiar name, Arlo Guthrie. “There were 500 kids at Camp Eisner; probably 250 were guitarists,” said Mishkin, eventually a camp song leader himself.

    The Eisner summers left the downstate New York teen with a desire to return one day to the Berkshires. He and his wife Wendy Jennis visited often during his 37-year career as an employment attorney in Washington, DC. They eventually purchased a home in Egremont. Mishkin, who now practices poverty law in the Berkshires, saw OLLI as an outlet for his desire to teach. His first course was on the Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

    “Folk music is an organic tradition,” he said. “It’s not static, but grows and changes with time. It’s entertaining, but not escapist; makes a point, often a socially conscious one; comforts and sometimes afflicts.”

    The course title is derived from Seeger’s comment that all folk singers who followed Guthrie were Woody’s children. Mishkin considers Seeger underrated as a banjo player and underappreciated as a songwriter, despite acclaim late in his life, and puts him at the center of the first class. Others of the lineage are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton (“at 82 he’s writing some of his best songs.”) There are many other artists whom Mishkin loves and in his opinion, deserve to be better known. The course will examine songs generated by protest movements, such as those against the Vietnam War, civil rights abuses and in favor of environmental protection. The final class will focus on 10 great songs.

    As a college freshman, Mishkin penned a folk song of his own called “Woody’s Children” (www.woodyschildren.com), and sent a homemade tape to a popular radio show of the same name in New York City. The song aired on future anniversary shows, and for its 50th in 2019, Mishkin appeared with folk luminaries in a concert that aired on PBS. They all sang his song.

    Expect to hear it in class. Maybe sing along.

    - Katherine S. Zdeb

  • Friday, April 10, 2020 1:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A Day in the Life of OLLI’s “Absolute Sound” Shared Interest Group:

    Talkin’ ‘Bout Circuit Design and Capacitors

    Despite restrictions of the pandemic, OLLI’s shared interest groups (SIGs) are alive. At this point, one of the more seasoned groups is the audiophile group, “Absolute Sound,” which has been in existence for three years. As it happens, all current members are men, but women are welcome and have attended in the past.

    The group met again in early February at the Otis home of Arthur and Diane Provenz. Eight attended, including two retired professional musicians. We enjoyed a lovely assortment of foods provided by our hosts, including Arthur’s famous potato pancakes. The real agenda, of course, was to listen to music on some high-end stereo equipment. The listeners gathered in the center the large living space, and listened to both vinyl disks and CDs. The music ranged from Miles Davis to the Cowboy Junkies and, unusually, the playlist did not include any classical pieces. The music volume at times was quite loud. One member wryly commented that the “reason for all of this is to expose ourselves to a somewhat dangerous level of sound.”

    On the technical side, a smaller group met at the dining table and seasoned their listening with extended conversations about recording and reproduction technology. The topics ranged through circuit design (tubes and capacitors), how to properly clean a CD (use an automotive product called RainX), the inherent weaknesses in various kinds of CD recordings (they are not designed to always play well), and the disadvantages of listening on earbuds. These folks care about the details and can quickly spot a mediocre recording. Praise was scarce; one overheard comment was “Yes, the base is clean and tight; it’s not muddy. I don’t mind it.”

    In short, the Absolute Sound members had been meeting regularly, happily enjoying each other’s company, listening to good music on good equipment, and learning how to improve their own systems. And they hope to meet again before too long.

    -          Peter Bluhm

  • Friday, April 10, 2020 1:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Three Members with Diverse Experiences and Deep Commitment to OLLI are Tapped for Board

    Three retirees who have deep ties to the Berkshires, a commitment to service and interests as varied as birding, lacrosse and construction have been tapped to join the OLLI Board of Directors.

    With their addition, the board will grow to its full strength of 19 members. The three candidates were recently recommended for the board by the OLLI Governance Committee and must be elected by OLLI’s full membership. You should receive your online ballot the week of April 27th, and can vote up to our Annual Meeting on 5/22.  The annual meeting will be conducted online, via Zoom, on May 22, starting at 4:00 PM.

    The candidates are Bruce Cohen, Erin McNamara and Steven Tobin, according to OLLI Vice President and Committee Chairman Gordon Josephson.  In addition, the committee recommended the reappointment of three incumbent board members whose terms are expiring – Shel Goldberg, Art Sherman and Will Singleton, Josephson said.

    “I believe we’ve found three highly qualified and energetic individuals to serve on our board,” said Josephson.

    ERIN McNAMARA has been an OLLI member since 2017, when she relocated to her home in Lenox following her retirement from a career in financial services. McNamara was Director of Human Services and Director of Continuous Improvement at Prudential Financial in New Jersey and California. A Pepperdine University graduate with a bachelor degree in business management, McNamara says she enjoys the opportunity retirement gives her to be of service to her community. Examples of her service include being a leader of the Mentoring for Success program at Berkshire Community College and volunteering as a tutor for the Literacy Network of South Berkshire. McNamara also is a member of the Lenox Cultural Council and a trail steward for Mass Audubon, a nationwide wildlife organization whose motto is: “Where birds thrive, people prosper.”

    BRUCE COHEN is a long-time Berkshire hand, having owned a vacation home on Stockbridge Bowl with his wife Joan since 1977. Nearly three years ago, the Cohens became permanent Berkshire residents. Cohen worked in sales and sales management for IBM in the New York City area before moving to Boston, where he held positions of increasing responsibility in several technology companies. He became the chief executive officer of two start-up companies and later an executive consultant. He earned bachelor and master degrees in mechanical engineering at Cornell University. Sports are a huge part of Cohen’s life. While an undergraduate at Cornell, Cohen played soccer and was a standout lacrosse player, winning induction into Cornell’s Athletic Hall of Fame, the Jewish Athletic Hall of Fame and the National lacrosse Hall of Fame. Cohen was on the 1974 world championship USA lacrosse team and now volunteers as an assistant lacrosse coach at Williams College. Besides coaching, Cohen bicycles for various fund raisers. Cohen says he particularly enjoys OLLI’s political science and humanities courses and is impressed by the quality and credentials of OLLI’s instructors.

    STEVEN TOBIN, a long-time active member of OLLI at BCC, comes to the board with a strong background in fund raising, development and marketing.  Tobin spent many years in real estate development and nationwide sales. At the same time, he was active in his community, helping found and then serve on the board of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla. His service to the congregation of Temple Solel included overseeing the development of its new social hall. Tobin’s fund-raising experience includes helping raise money for his temple, and for Israel Bonds and the March of the Living. Tobin presently serves on the board of OLLI at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton, Fla. In the Berkshires, Tobin was a co-creator of the summer Encore program, which offers courses to members who come to the Berkshires during the summer months. Additionally, Tobin is a facilitator of the “In-the-News” course and has been an active participant with the popular “Science Conversations” course.  Tobin has served on OLLI’s Development Committee since 2017. He has been on the Curriculum Committee since 2019.

    • -          Chris Guidette

  • Friday, April 10, 2020 12:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What Makes OLLI Tick?

    Many OLLI members are old hands, having attended OLLI classes and events for years. For newer members though, some OLLI basics may not be apparent. As a reader of this newsletter, you may already know a great deal about OLLI courses and events. If not, you can explore our website. Also, don’t forget to look into OLLI’s informal Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) which meet like clubs on a wide variety of topics.

    OLLI is descended from the Berkshire Institute of Lifelong Learning (BILL), a nonprofit that began offering courses for adults in the 1990s. BILL was a very ambitious program, and its success soon generated a demand for paid staff and office space. BILL then sought and received a large capital grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation to help pay those costs.

    The Osher grants produced two fundamental changes. First, in 2007 BILL affiliated with Berkshire Community College, and became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College. Each side signed an agreement in 2007 that defined this new relationship. Then in 2009 the Osher Foundation provided the first of what ultimately became two gifts of $1 million, to the Berkshire Community College Foundation (BCCF), to be used only for OLLI.

    OLLI expects to receive about $290,000 in revenues this fiscal year (FY 2020, pandemic adjusted). Revenues come from numerous sources, as shown in the pie chart below. Proceeds from the Osher grant money make the largest contribution. Last fall our capital balance ran somewhat larger than the $2 million originally given by Osher, but it has fallen during the pandemic outbreak and is still subject to daily fluctuations. This fund is still held by Berkshire Community College Foundation, and the OLLI Finance Committee meets periodically with the BCCF trustee to review existing investment practices.

    Among the remaining revenue sources, course fees and membership fees make up almost half the budget. Fundraising activities and appeals, taken together, generate about $30,000, and this revenue helps OLLI to keep fees affordable.

    Staff is OLLI’s greatest expense, accounting for almost three-fourths of the budget. Other major expense categories include printing, postage and advertising.

    OLLI bylaws create a Board of Directors, which can be as large as 19 people, and which comprises a president, Barbara Lane, a vice-president, Gordon Josephson, the immediate past president, Peter Bluhm, a secretary, Sandi Rubin and treasurer, Lenny Tabs. The rest of the directors serve “at large.”  Board members are identified online at https://berkshireolli.wildapricot.org/OLLI-Board.

    Under the 2007 Agreement with BCC, the board is the “principal governing body” of OLLI, although it always works in conformance with BCC policies and in close cooperation with the college, its foundation and OLLI’s committees.

    BCC and OLLI have a mutually supportive relationship. OLLI benefits include free classroom and office space, as well as accounting, human resources and audio-visual support. In return, OLLI members act as mentors to BCC students, and OLLI makes small annual contributions to the college library. Less directly, OLLI provides BCC an opportunity to involve more members of the Berkshire community in its programs.

    OLLI also has cooperating relationships with other Berkshire colleges, including Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Bard College at Simon’s Rock. These institutions have generously provided both instructors and classroom spaces in the past at no cost to OLLI.

    For several years, OLLI has run a leadership academy, and depending on the status of the global health crisis, an academy will be held again over three days in June.  If you are interested in learning more about OLLI, and might like to become more involved, contact a board member to discuss attending this academy.

    More than 120 OLLI organizations operate around the country. They vary in size and structure and offer different types of programs. But they are all tied by their connection to the Osher Foundation – created by the philanthropist Bernard Osher, and by the universal joy all members feel for the learning experience.

    Peter Bluhm and Barbara Lane

Sign up for our free email newsletter, and don't miss out on our great programs!
Support OLLI at Berkshire Community College and lifelong learning in the Berkshires

OLLI: the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College
Partners in education with Williams College, Bard College at Simon's Rock and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

1350 West Street | Pittsfield, MA 01201 | 413.236.2190 | olli@berkshirecc.edu

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software