Olli At Aquinas  


About Us

The History and Development of OLLI at Aquinas
Browne Center

The OLLI at Aquinas program at Aquinas College began in 1973 as a vision of former Aquinas College president Dr. Norbert Hruby to establish a center for lifelong learning. Dr. Hruby believed that Aquinas College had a responsibility to provide pre- and post- retirement educational opportunities to the growing population of those 50 and older. This insight and commitment were ahead of its time; especially when most small colleges were struggling just to maintain their traditional-aged students.


In the autumn of 1975, 115 “students” enrolled in courses in what was then called the Aquinas Emeritus College. In 1978, the Aquinas College Board of Trustees created the Emeritus Board to serve as an advisory body for the program. The Emeritus College program has grown steadily through the years, and more than 1500 students participate annually in the program’s classes. Today, over 35 years later, OLLI at Aquinas is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country.


In 2008, the Emeritus College became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Aquinas, proudly continuing the rich tradition of serving the intellectual and spiritual needs of older learners in West Michigan. With a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation, OLLI at Aquinas joined a nationwide network of 117 lifelong learning institutes across the country, all devoted to best practices in lifelong learning. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are dedicated to not only providing excellent educational opportunities for older learners, but also to extending the demographic served by traditional universities.  


The OLLI program boasts six sessions (Fall I, Fall II, January, Winter, Spring, June) offering more than 160 distinct courses per year in its on-campus program. OLLI also offers programs in collaboration with its community partners such as the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Broadway Grand Rapids, Opera of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Ballet, the public library, and senior retirement facilities in which the classes are held at their specific locations. Additionally, OLLI’s classes are often field trips in and outside the community to visit local historic and cultural places such as new and old businesses, art institutes, theatres, wineries, and stately mansions. We even offer trips abroad!

Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, Chancellor Emerita of Aquinas College, has provided oversight for the Emeritus College, now OLLI, since 1980 and continues to guide its growth and vision. Its dedicated Board, together with the director(s) and program coordinator, work toward developing curriculum, increasing the program’s visibility within the community, and identifying funding sources. The success of OLLI at Aquinas over the past 30 years is due in large part to a vibrant and generous community that has provided both leadership and financial support.