Learning on the road

OLLI members enjoy hearing about the Civil War from an interpreter dressed in period costume.

June 3, 2010

Take a group of 34 lifelong learners on a motor coach bound for Gettysburg, add two Civil War experts and an impeccable tour coordinator, and you have the formula for some incredible learning—on the road.

This is the context of a recent Learning Trip hosted by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Bradley—OLLI—a collaboration between Bradley’s Division of Continuing Education and more than 750 community members age 50 and older, who together create a community of learners. 

On the recent bus trip, an eight-day immersion in Civil War sites, the travelers enjoyed insights shared by two veteran travelers and Civil War experts, Bernie Drake and Randy Saxon.  Drake, a former president of the Peoria Historical Society who has led several Civil War history trips, teamed with Randy Saxon, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Peoria and a former licensed Gettysburg guide, to set the stage for the drama that would unfold on the trip.

Along the route, the travelers enjoyed many stops of interest.  They experienced a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ohio birthplace of John Glenn, former senator and hero astronaut.  Met by John Glenn’s “mother,” an interpretive guide, the group was asked how they had accumulated sufficient gasoline coupons to drive such a large bus.

In Pennsylvania, the participants toured the National Civil War Museum where they experienced the story of a dissolving and reuniting nation.  A side trip to the Eisenhower National Historic Site included a visit to the only home ever owned by this celebrated president. 

The travelers then made their way through Gettysburg, Antietam, and Harpers Ferry—three of the most significant battlefields of the Civil War.  At these historic places, the OLLI travelers were immersed in the human drama of the Civil War.  With tours through battlegrounds, views of breathtaking scenery, and powerful dramatizations of life and death struggles, the group took a path through history that no classroom lecture or film could as powerfully re-enact. 

A poignant end to the trip was the visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.  Documenting the tragedy of slavery, the Center provided a fitting perspective to the trip.

Sue Manley, who orchestrated the travel details and served as host, took great pride in reading through the evaluations collected from the participants.  “Over the top learning,” one wrote.  “In a trip about war and death, this history was put in perspective with grace and humor,” commented another OLLI member.

“You can take a class about the Civil War, but until you stand on that ground, it’s not real.  This trip made the learning real,” Manley said.

Follow the day-to-day adventures of the Civil War Tour by visiting the OLLI blog where you can also enjoy photos taken on the trip.