Above photo: From right, Dot and Gil Yates and their friend, Jim Davis, hear historian Thomas J. McElhinny talk about the Paci c Coast Indians at PALS, Perimeter Adult Learning & Services, at Dunwoody United Methodist Church. Photo by Isadora Pennington

A class on Pacific Coast Indians was about to begin at Dunwoody United Methodist Church when a man strode into the room, making a beeline for his classmate Gil Yates, front row, center.

“No running!” Yates said, as the man approached. “Shuffling’s OK.”

The teasing was all in good fun. Yates is a year older than his buddy, who would not reveal his name, but did share his age: 91.

The men are among 175 students taking classes this spring with Perimeter Adults Learning & Services (PALS).

PALS is in its 25th year of providing continuing education for senior adults, most of whom are 60-plus. Yates and his wife, Dot, of Dunwoody, have been members from the start.

“People our age want to help other people, and this kind of takes care of the need for fellowship,” Dot Yates said. “We have made lifelong friends.”

Classes are presented by unpaid volunteers, who tend to be retired professionals from the academic and corporate worlds and others “who have an abiding interest in a particular area that they like to share,” said PALS President Bill Berger, a retired U.S. Department of Labor attorney who subsequently practiced immigration law.

For example, instead of focusing on battlefields, one of PALS’ Civil War instructors centered his discussions on how Southern state governments operated and handled money during the war.

Other continuing education programs for seniors are operating around metro Atlanta, and, seniors say, giving them valuable mental, social and physical stimulation.

OLLI members gather at the Executive Park building before taking a tour of the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in February 2016. At front center, wearing red and black, is Judy Sutter, chair of OLLI’s Events/Enrichment Day Trips Committee.
Photo courtesy of OLLI at Emory

The new manager of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Emory University, Jeffery Alejandro, says adult education has evolved since he started in the field.

“Twenty years ago, a lot of programs for seniors were geared more toward arts and crafts, literacy and basic skills,” Alejandro said. “As more of the baby boomers started reaching retirement age, they started demanding more intellectually challenging courses.”

PALS’ offers eight classes on Mondays in three time slots. The quarterly sessions alternate between Dunwoody Baptist Church and Dunwoody United Methodist Church, the site of PALS’ office and the current session of classes.

In addition to Pacific Coast Indians, PALS students are learning about the 2017 real estate market, travel, Shakespeare, state and local politics, President Harry S. Truman, ‘“The Black Experience 1800-1900,” bridge, Mah Jongg and “Examining Your Funny Bone I.”

Emory’s OLLI program started in 1979 with a few classes held at churches. It’s now a bustling branch of Emory Continuing Education, with an annual membership of nearly 1,300 students ages 50-plus and more than 150 course offerings a year taught by volunteers.

The growth is the result of a collaborative effort between Emory staff members and dedicated OLLI students, including Advisory Committee Chair Pat Miller, Alejandro said. The retired businesswoman recruited volunteers and helped lead a critical member fundraising drive in order to attract an additional endowment from the program’s benefactor, the Osher Foundation, he said.

OLLI’s spring session offers classes on Tuesdays through Thursdays, beginning April 3.

The spring catalog features course titles such as “The Composer’s Universe: Mozart,” “Asian Brush Drawing,” “Fun With Algebra,” “ABCs of Law – Part 2,” “Learn Farsi,” “Introduction to Biotechnology,” and “Where Do You Want To Be At 103?”

Improv classes taught by professional actors led to the birth of a performing OLLI troupe, “The Improvables,” which has been featured on the Dr. Oz website as an example of improving health through laughter.

Many members take three or four classes, while one of them is taking nine, said Jessica Wilson, the program’s senior outreach program coordinator.

OLLI’s classes fill up so quickly that 96-year-old Dorothy Marrinson finally agreed to be taught how to register for them online, Wilson said.

“It keeps me feeling alive,” Marrinson said of her long years with OLLI, where she ends morning classes by hanging out with her lunch bunch. “I like being with people. I like the courses. It’s intellectually stimulating.”

Marrinson’s driver’s license was just renewed and she’s raring to go to the four classes she’ll take on Tuesdays and Thursdays: The Shock of the New American Modernism 1900-1960; The History of Russia; The 2016 Presidential Election Examined — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; and Presidential Power Under the Constitution.

Dorothy Marrinson, 96, won OLLI’s 2015 Halloween costume competition with her Lady Gaga costume. She has signed up for four OLLI classes this spring. Photos courtesy of OLLI at Emory

“I’m really looking forward to that one,” said Marrinson, of Presidential Power. The year before, the Morningside/Lenox Park resident who loves “junk stores” and “can’t live without the New York Times” won the OLLI Halloween contest for her Lady Gaga costume, which included gold high heels.

Judy Sutter, 78, of Buckhead, chairs a committee that plans these types of activities and day trips for members.

Makes sense. The retired advertising manager is an extremely active person herself.

She’s a docent at the High Museum, takes four classes weekly at OLLI, goes to the gym twice a week and recently has been catching up with friends by holding dinner parties for eight every two weeks.

A woman who enjoys diversity, she likes the fact that OLLI is coed.

“You really get a different perspective on life when you have men and women together,” Sutter said. “It’s like being in college, only we don’t sleep in the same dorm.”

Spring classes at PALS began March 27. About 75 people showed up, along with the Yates, for the latest in Tom McElhinny’s series of classes on American Indians.

The Yates, who are retired from real estate careers and will have been married 70 years in October, said they always look forward to classes taught by the retired historian, who’s a docent at the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Ga.

PALS has also had great classes in the arts and history, Dot Yates said. “Gil likes humor, and anything to do with politics goes over very well [with people],” she said.

Dr. Mark Levine teaches seniors about the positive effects humor and laughter in his “Examining Your Funny Bone” classes. Here, he hands student Annis Dinnerman a copy of the course outline. Dinnerman says she’s funny in small group settings. Photo by Isadora Pennington

Dr. Mark Levine, who infused humor into organizational training during his career, is back at PALS this semester with his “Funny Bone” class.

The class examines the positive effects of humor and laughter and is a perfect fit for Annis Dinnerman, 86, a retiree who worked in sales at the Omni Hotel.

“My friends think I’m Joan Rivers,” she said. Turning to Levine, she added, “I expect you to get me a gig as soon as this is over.”

Dinnerman is new to PALS since her recent move from Buckhead to the Dunwoody area, and has taken OLLI classes for 12 years.

Meanwhile, IBM retiree Jim Davis, 84, of Brookhaven, is enjoying his third quarter of PALS classes.

“They make you think,” he said. “The older you get, the more you realize you need to stimulate your mind to have a healthy body.  “In my thinking, if you stop learning, you start dying. And I want to be around as long as I can.”

Donna Williams Lewis

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.