Chuck Korte deserves to be called OLLI’s founding father, even though he was too young to join at the time.
It happened like this. Back in 1989, Chuck — with a Harvard Ph.D. in Social Psychology — was a Professor of Multi-disciplinary Studies at NC State. In doing research on the transition to retirement, he learned that some U.S. universities sponsored programs for learning in retirement, and he determined that NC State would be a good location for this. He got together with Sondra Kirsch, then the interim Associate Vice Chancellor of University Extension, to develop a strategy for exploring the feasibility of new programming oriented to the needs and interests — particularly educational — of older adults.
They held informal discussions with several groups and individuals. NC State’s Association of Retired Faculty and Frank Emory, an experienced extension staff member, played key roles. Advice was also sought from upper-level administrators. That fall Chuck chaired an ad hoc steering committee appointed by Vice Chancellor Art White. Members included active and retired faculty, extension staff, and community leaders. The General Administration of the University of North Carolina approved the establishment at NC State of a center for older adult education and enrichment.
The Center for Creative Retirement at UNC-Asheville awarded NC State a grant for the first Raleigh Seminar, coordinated by Howard Miller. The following spring, Chancellor Brown of UNC-Asheville attended a meeting of NC State’s steering committee to share his experience and support NC State’s efforts. Chancellor Monteith of NC State also attended and offered support.
A program committee, chaired by NC State faculty members Ray Noggle and later Conrad Glass, was formed to plan the first Encore programs. Sondra Kirsch became the first director, succeeded a year later by Denis Jackson, the McKimmon Center director. NC State Chancellor Bruce Poulton suggested the name The Encore Center for Lifelong Enrichment. Chuck chaired the first Encore Advisory Council in 1990, and the first brochure was produced that fall. A reception for community leaders was held in the McKimmon Center to tell them about Encore and encourage them to spread the word. Volunteer instructors were recruited and registrations started coming in. Today there are more than 1,500 members.
Encore’s name was changed to OLLI in 2014 to reflect its connection to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Network, some 100 programs supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation. Today Chuck is Ex Officio on the OLLI Advisory Council and a member of the Program Development Committee. He also serves as research coordinator. And in February he [is teaching or taught, depending on when this is posted] “Heaven for OLLI Members: Chautauqua!” about the historic institution in western New York State, a pioneer in adult education.
So what about Chuck’s personal life? He grew up in Gettysburg, Pa., where his father was the chaplain at Gettysburg College. His first ambition was to be an engineer but he also hoped to teach; he excelled at math and physics in high school. The school sent him to Norway for a year as an American Field Service exchange student. He majored in Psychology at Miami University in Ohio, and then earned his doctorate at Harvard. He joined the faculty at Vassar, and had a sabbatical at the Free University of Amsterdam as a visiting scholar, doing research in Environmental Social Psychology — the effects of the environment on social behavior. He helped nine students study behaviors in a crisis, such as the widely publicized murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens while her neighbors did nothing.
Then Chuck joined the faculty of St. Andrews in Scotland, which Prince William and many other royals attended (and where golf was invented). “It was the best job I ever had,” he said. “I was so pampered, and the students were wonderful. Lectures were minimal, only nine a year because they were on a tutorial system like Oxford’s. I was happy as a lark. But the economy was poor, the weather was bad, and I was far from my family.” That family included his wife, Peggy, who’d been his first date at Miami University’s
“Church Night,” and with whom he now enjoys international travel. So he came home when Penn State gave him a one-year appointment. He was teaching there in 1979 when NC State made him an offer. “It’s a big research university so it was easy to say yes,” he said.
When NC State awarded him a sabbatical, he spent it at the University of Cambridge in England while he was researching Social Gerontology — a perfect fit for his work to help establish OLLI.
~ Barbara Haddad Ryan