OLLI Study Group Chair

Gary Nelson

I grew up in Princeton, Illinois and graduated from Princeton High School in 1968. I then graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in 1972, was drafted into the U.S. Army, and served in Korea until May 1974.  After graduating from law school at the University of Illinois in 1977, I was hired by Heyl Royster Voelker & Allen as their 20th lawyer. I retired from HRVA at the end of 2015 after serving five years as the firm’s managing partner, overseeing over 110 attorneys in six offices throughout Illinois. Carol and I have been married for 45 years. We have two children, Matt, a design engineer at Caterpillar (married to Amber), and Sarah, an account manager at Padarowski Creative (James) and five grandchildren.

I first got involved in with OLLI in 2016 when I signed up for a study group on the Murrow Boys, led by Keith Butterfield, and a writing study group led by Jane Hense, Nancy Varness and Keith Butterfield.  I then attended fall classes and took a learning trip to Canton and Lewistown, tracing Edgar Lee Masters and the basis for Spoon River Anthology.

I have loved OLLI from the start.

What surprises me the most about OLLI is the wide variety of interests demonstrated by the OLLI members in supporting classes, study groups, and classes. It is truly a benefit to the community.  The best thing to happen to me since joining OLLI has been making new friends and renewing old friendships, as well as the intellectual stimulation from participating in and leading study groups.

OLLI is a volunteer organization. I believe that volunteering to serve on a committee, lead a study group, and/or make a donation, is payback for those who volunteered to create and sustain the benefits of OLLI.  While I wish we could attract more diversity in our membership, I do wish more people knew how welcoming the members are and how easy it is to participate in its programs. You can be as involved as you choose to be.

The first person I met at OLLI was Vick Steward riding on the bus from Westminster to classes. We have many similar interests and have been involved in many study groups together since that day. Jane Hense is funny and smart and always encouraging as we explored mutual interests in writing and literature. Of course, Carol May, who “volunteered” me to take on my first study group and supported me through that experience. The director Michelle Riggio was very welcoming when I showed up for curriculum and study group committee meetings just to see how this OLLI organization worked. She continues to be great to work with. (Of course, we bonded as Cub fans as our team started to dominate the National League.) Many, many others -the Butterfield bros, Randy Wilson, Dewey Fitch, Shelley Epstein...

Lifelong learning should be, and is, fun!  I always get more out of it than I put in. Leading study groups is personally enriching.  Each study group in which I have participated has resulted in new friendships, as well as a deeper knowledge of the subject matter, be that Hemingway, movies, writing fiction, China, the civil rights movement, or the First Amendment.

When my friends find out that I attend OLLI, they usually say, “You’re teaching a class on writing? Who in the world lets you do that? Why do you do that? Why go back to school when you are retired? What does OLLI stand for?”

Carol May approached me (during my first OLLI study group) to lead one session of a study group she was forming to examine momentous decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. I had never met Carol before. After a couple of discussions, she encouraged me to take over the study group which became “Lies, Damn Lies, and Libel” about freedom of the press and the First Amendment. That experience cemented my love of study groups. Carol could be seen as a gruff and demanding person but she was also thoughtful, funny, and smart. We all miss her.

OLLI is a tremendous value for the money. The wide variety of programming and the opportunity for social interaction are stimulating.  As OLLI gains new fans like me, we spread the word to our friends to become involved - do it, it’s easy and there are scones!

I hope our membership and leadership will become more diverse even as our programming continues its excellence.  Being involved is both easy and rewarding. I get more out of OLLI than I have contributed.

If I had $10,000 to donate to OLLI, I would fund a scholarship program to help those OLLI members who need it afford the more expensive OLLI trips like those to Europe, Washington D.C. etc. (or buy Michelle and I tickets to the 2018 Cubs World Series!)

For my parting comments, let me tell you more about my grandchildren, Owen, Olivia, Oliver, Jack and Nora....:-) (Sorry, Carol M.)