Donovan Scholars Celebrates 50 Years

donovan-scholarsIn 1964, the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved the Herman L. Donovan Fellowship for senior citizens, and the first Donovan Scholars, aged 65-84, attended UK.

A half-century later, UK is celebrating the golden anniversary of the program with a year-long slate of special events, including a jubilee luncheon at Keeneland in October that featured

UK President Eli Capilouto, a performance by the Niles String Quartet, exhibits and a proclamation by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Proclamations galore befit the program, which offers two lifelong learning options.

The Donovan Fellowship offers an academic tuition waiver for adults 65 and older to take classes at UK.

Through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute national network, which UK joined in 2006, short-term enrichment classes are offered in the community. The participation age begins at 50.

UK had been offering these classes since 1966 before joining the OLLI program.

Held at various community locations, the classes have been taught by persons with a passion for learning, including current and retired UK professors.

As the program spiked in popularity, more classes were added such as fitness, yoga, line dancing, Spanish and all manner of history classes.

Today there are more than 50 courses to choose from each fall and spring.

As the 50th anniversary neared, OLLI volunteers and staff poured through the archives and discovered a treasure trove of highlights.

Over the years, hundreds of older students have taken advantage of the Donovan Fellows tuition waiver.

Degrees have been earned in dozens of fields with Amanda Hicks earning the first degree in 1967. Alfred Arthurs was the first to earn a Ph.D., in educational psychology, in 1975.

The program also has an international reach. A student from China and eight students from Canada entered the program in 1966, and a group of Donovan Scholars in 1970 traveled to Europe.

Two years after UK debuted the program, Time Magazine heralded it as “Educare for Elders” and proposed that it could be easily copied by other states. And it quickly was.

In Kentucky, in 1976, the General Assembly expanded the idea of the Donovan Fellowship by mandating that citizens aged 65 and older receive a tuition waiver for academic classes at all state supported colleges.

The golden anniversary has been a busy time for the program. Along with the jubilee luncheon in October, OLLI hosted a community reception in April that drew 350 people to Dunbar

High School for a walk through 50 years of lifelong learning with a reception, and musical and acting performances.

Pop Up Events this summer included demonstrations of lifelong learning at McConnell Springs on Founders Day, the Farmer’s Market and Moon Dance Jazz Nights.

Diana Lockridge, the OLLI at UK program director, points out that it’s easy to join the program, particularly with the enrichment classes.

OLLI membership is just $25 per year, with a $20 fee for most classes.

More than 1,000 OLLI Scholars took courses this fall on topics such as Beginning Digital Photography, Master of Suspense: The Golden Era of Films by Alfred Hitchcock, Line Dancing, Taoist Tai Chi and Spanish from beginning to advanced.

The program also offers Shared Interest Groups in which a group of lifelong learners meet to discuss topics of mutual interest.

A partnership with Fayette County Schools allows OLLI service volunteers to mentor school children and assist in schools.

The next 50 years of the program kicks off in December with an early bird registration window for current OLLI Scholars, then on Jan. 13, 2015 adults 50 and older are invited to an open house at Tates Creek Christian Church.

Participants can meet instructors and learn more about the program.

Later that day, on-line registration will open. The most popular classes, including fitness, culture and history classes, fill up quickly.

“The first 50 years have been an incredible journey,” Lockridge said, adding that she expects the next 50 years to be just as exciting.

“The great thing is that these are interesting, thought-provoking classes,” she said.

“Instructors love to teach because the students are there because they want to learn.

“And you never know what interesting and exciting class will pop up next.”

Info: 257-2656, toll free (866) 602-5862 or visit