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Learning Large in Retirement

LIRA Enriches, Educates and Engages

LIRA at UMass Lowell
The Learning in Retirement Association offers students educational and leadership opportunities.

By Julia Gavin

When you think of retirement, does learning about biostatistics, astronomy or the theremin come to mind? Maybe not, but for more than 135 members of the Learning in Retirement Association (LIRA), those just scratch the surface of activities and interests available to pursue.

LIRA, the second-oldest association of its kind in the state, was founded in 1988 by Mark Levine, then director of community services, who began offering classes to 30 members. The association is a multi-faceted educational program for retired and semi-retired people who want to expand their knowledge regardless of past education or age. At a LIRA event, Levine, who passed away in 2005, described the association’s founding principle:

“An active retirement is a healthy event totally engaging the retiree. The secret further strategy in a healthy, engaging retirement is the shifting about of life’s priorities from earlier emphases; it is in the development of those areas of interest and leadership that had been twinklings in our eye during our earlier lives. Incipient arts appreciators, latent political theorists, progenitor scientists were invited by LIRA to bring out these back bench activities.”  

The group has reignited and developed countless interests for participants in its 24 years of programming. The curriculum is designed by members to provide learning and social experiences while engaging members in leadership and community activities.

Current president, Toby Hodes, attended an open session in 1998 on the advice of a friend. Hodes had recently retired and joined the group quickly. Since then, she has served as the newsletter editor, a course facilitator and curriculum chair. Classes on major world religions, history courses with Prof. Bob Forrant and book discussions are among her favorite recent programs.

“My pleasure is learning about a wide variety of subjects – many of which were certainly not covered in my technical education at Lowell Technological Institute – without the pressures of homework, exams and grades,” says Hodes, who graduated in 1958. “Through LIRA, I have continued to keep my mind active and my knowledge of the world around me up-to-date – all while meeting wonderful, informed, interesting people.”

Marjorie Short, membership chair and longtime member, says that the “Arts and Music” programs are always a participant favorite. This fall, the program is chaired by Dorothy Bromage and will include four museum trips and several interactive lectures. 

“When I retired, I had a list of activities to investigate that I felt may keep me active and involved,” says Short. “LIRA became the most important because I meet well-educated people with varied backgrounds who have similar interests. A recent favorite LIRA program was presented by music students Derek Hayden and Danny Dugan who explained and demonstrated various percussion instruments.”

During LIRA’s summer intersession series, nearly 70 members and community members filled the Talon Room at the Tsongas Center to hear Paul Mitchell, a biostatician and son of member Shirley Mitchell, speak about the evolution of scientific research from conception to publication. The group will wrap up the summer with trips to Fenway Park, the Haystack Observatory and sessions on U.S. Marines and heart health.

LIRA also works to educate younger students by sponsoring a scholarship at the University. Two scholarships are awarded each year based on academic success and community engagement.

For more information on classes, membership and community-involvement opportunities, visit the LIRA website. While active membership is encouraged, LIRA welcomes all participants, whether they take one class a year or become a chair.

“Members can be as involved as they care to be,” says Hodes. “Some get involved on committees; others facilitate study groups; some take almost every course offered, while others choose only one or two. The beauty of LIRA is that people can pick and choose, depending on their time, interests and other commitments.”