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Opportunities for Lifelong Learning

Group in its 18th year in Mankato.

Nate Gotlieb, Mankato Free Press, 1-18-2015

Not many organizations give older adults the chance to learn about topics ranging from Renaissance literature to the Galapagos Islands.

Mankato Area Lifelong Learners does.

The organization provides quarterly classes and social experiences for adults over age 50. It also offers a series of special classes, called Great Decisions, eight times a year as well as other special events.

“It’s very important for people to be engaged as we age,” said Mary Bliesmer, the organization’s vice president. “Your mind and your body and your spirit all get engaged when you are with other people in conversation.”

Lifelong Learners has provided more than 900 classes and activities since its founding in 1996. The group is an allvolunteer organization, except for a paid, part-time office manager. It partners with Minnesota State University, Mankato, but the university does not provide direct financial support. Its income is exclusively based on membership dues and fees.

The organization offers 12 or more classes each quarter taught by group members, university faculty and local topic experts. It hosts the Great Decisions classes eight times a year. As part of the courses, an expert presents a topic of national or international significance and leads a follow-up discussion on it. Great Decisions classes have included topics ranging from human trafficking to privacy in the digital age.

“It deals with cutting-edge issues that have the potential or will have a huge impact on our lives, even as retired citizen of the U.S.,” past president Rallah Madison said.

Lifelong Learners first offered the course in fall 2011 and is one of more than 60 Great Decisions groups in Minnesota.

The organization also offers special educational events, such as a forum on the Russia-Ukraine conflict this past summer. It is hosting another special event Jan. 31 to discuss the latest U.S. foreignpolicy developments. Tom Hanson, a former career foreign-service officer, will speak at the event. He will also host a session with Minnesota State Mankato students interested in a career with the state department. The event is free and open to the public.

Issuing a challenge

Current Lifelong Learners president Dave Janovy was director of aging studies at Minnesota State Mankato in 1996 and was asked to speak to a retired educator’s group. He talked to the group about some of the lifelong learning institutes around the country and tossed out a challenge: If this sounds good here, come and see me and we’ll try to get it going.

The first classes began in March 1996 and had a total enrollment of 50. The organization gradually grew and reached an enrollment of 121 in fall of 1999. It now has over 200 active members.

Lifelong Learners draws members from all around the Mankato area, all the way up to Eden Prairie. Leaders stress that the organization is for everyone, not just those who are well educated.

“We recognize that if you went through eighth grade, so what?” Janovy said. “You still have a curious mind, and you need to feel that curiosity.”

The organization has changed its age requirement from 55 to 50 in recent years in an effort to reach more baby boomers. It’s started offering a few courses at night to accommodate younger members who still work. It also has a “Try it! You’ll like it!” policy that allows non-members to attend a program at no cost.

Current Lifelong Learners members credit the organization with keeping them mentally sharp as they get older.

The entire version of this story can be read online or in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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