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Kendall Park Man Embodies Lifelong Learning

Eighty-seven year old Marvin Schlaffer retired 19 years ago, and then he started working.

As he long ago entered what should be the twilight period of his life, Kendall Park resident Marvin Schlaffer is not about to begin slowing down.

Schlaffer, 87, works fulltime as the Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Rutgers (OLLI-RU), a position he has held since 2006 after joining the program 19 years ago.

"I retired from a position with the New Jersey School Boards Association and having time on my hands, I enrolled to take two classes in this new program," Schlaffer said. "After the first year, the person coordinating the program retired and a notice was posted for the job. So I came forward and was hired as coordinator, and then later as director. Here I am, 19 years after I thought I retired and I'm still doing the same thing. So my retirement only lasted several months."

The OLLI-RU has grown from 75 students to more than 1,700 at two sites in Highland Park and Freehold, with a third location at Raritan Valley Community College in Bridgewater opening this spring.  The program offers over 120 courses in art, music, language and other interests for adults over the age of 50.

For Schlaffer, a 35-year resident of South Brunswick, the courses offered him a chance to expand his horizons after his initial retirement.

"What appealed to me was that the courses offered are taught by retired faculty at Rutgers or from recognized high schools and colleges around the state," he said. "The subjects are offered during the day and are inexpensive. It was a way to keep myself engaged and learn more about topics that I love. Unfortunately, since I took the job I haven't been able to take any courses."

Schlaffer added that the program offers numerous benefits for the senior community beyond just the academics.

"Our program has an excellent social aspect to it, because 99 percent of our members are retired and this is a wonderful place to come and be engaged while meeting people on a daily basis," he said. "It's a place to be engaged socially, while also finding intellectual curiosity."

As a former student of the program, Schlaffer said his experience allows him to know what students are looking for in a lifelong learning program.

"Having been a student, I'm empathic with the people coming in and I have a fair understanding of the people of my generation, so the program and its amenities are compatible with the needs of comfort and availability of courses," he said. 

Having decided not to slow down after reaching his golden years, Schlaffer said his work with OLLI-RU has actually helped his overall health.

"My engagement in this work has prolonged and contributed to my continued well being, so for me this has been a win-win," he said. "I couldn't ask for a better last chapter of my working life."

While he entertains no thoughts of slowing down anytime soon, Schlaffer said eventually he will have to settle down into an actual retirement, at least one that lasts a little longer than his first stab at it.

"I do get the question, once in awhile, of when are you going to retire and when are you going to slow down?" Schlaffer said. "My answer today is that I have no desire to do that. Tomorrow may be another story."

The complete catalog and course descriptions for OLLI-RU, along with registration information, can be found online at olliru.rutgers.edu. For a print catalog, send an email to olliru@docs.rutgers.edu, or call 732-932-7233, ext. 4200. 

The noncredit courses are taught by current and retired instructors from area colleges, including Rutgers and RVCC, and high schools. There are no grades or tests, and a college degree is not required to enroll.

Jacque Rubel February 22, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Marvin and I have traveled this journey from the days when we worked together with the State Teen Arts program (way back when) to today when we now actively work to serve our own generation. He is an inspiration now and has always been. A very modest, individual with a huge work ethic. Saluting you, my friend. Jacque Rubel

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