The Team at Forever Learning Institute Believes the Pursuit of Knowledge Should Never Stop
Writer & Photographer / Lois Tomaszewski
The quest for knowledge is one of those lifelong endeavors that may contribute to a better quality of life. At Forever Learning Institute in South Bend, seniors continue to learn in all sorts of areas, from dancing and pickleball to foreign languages and literature studies.
In 2024 the Forever Learning team will mark five decades of service in the Michiana area, with a program that offers intellectual challenges, spiritual reflection and social interaction. The most recent fall semester offered 98 courses and touched on practical topics like learning about the internet, understanding Medicare, and how to use digital photos to create gifts. Other courses explored music, dance, tai chi, cardio drumming and religious studies.
“Forever Learning really is a service organization with a mission of lifelong learning,” says Executive Director Eve Finnessy.
Many of the instructors have advanced degrees or are in the education field. Some have retired from the area’s universities such as Notre Dame. According to Finnessy, Forever Learning encourages these instructors to teach whatever they want. Some instructors teach in their field and others teach subjects for which they have a passion.
She says some of the classes offered would be considered niche subjects like local history, like the one titled What Happened to Studebaker, or the class on Mishawaka history. Finnessy says others would be considered highbrow subjects, such as quantum mechanics or creative thinking. Other classes are offered due to popularity like pickleball, which is offered in four classes this fall.
Other classes provide an out-of-the-classroom experience, like a field trip or trip to a play. Some instructors add a field trip during the semester.
“We have a lot of dedicated volunteer instructors,” Finnessy says. “They love what they do and need an environment to continue it.”
Instructor Ann Carey Schmiedeler agrees. “Seniors are my favorite students,” she wrote for the organization’s recent impact report. “It’s very rewarding to see their excitement over learning new skills and producing fine work. I look forward to every class.”
The once-per-week classes are offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays only. Classes are offered year-round.
The full in-person program is offered in the spring and fall in 10-week sessions. In winter, Forever Learning schedules online classes for a six-week run. The fall semester begins the week after Labor Day. The spring semester traditionally begins the first full week in March. In 2022-2023, 1,566 students enrolled in 184 classes, according to the organization’s impact report.
The attending students should be aged 55 or older. Finnessy says 68% of students are in their 70s and 80s, with another 17% older than 60.
Brother James J. Cane wrote the following in a comment presented in the organization’s impact report: “Forever Learning provides me the joy of meeting new friends, the discovery of new ideas, and the stimulation of my imagination, outlook and knowledge base. Forever’s classes prepare me to regift that grace to others.”
South Bend is an ideal location for the work that Forever Learning does, Finnessy says. People who attended college here will often retire here. There is an active arts scene, and it’s considered affordable.
Tuition is $55 per class. Scholarships are offered to those who need one. There is no proof of income or need required.
“Money should never be a reason for not taking a class at Forever Learning,” Finnessy says. “We never turn anyone down. We are committed to offering a platform for senior adults, to continue fulfilling and interesting lives in every way.”
Forever Learning was founded by Father Louis Putz, a retired professor from Notre Dame. Putz believed that seniors needed challenging educational classes. He recruited fellow retired educators and professors to lend their passion for learning.
To commemorate that founding in 1974, a gala and dinner celebration is being planned for August.
To find out more about the courses offered at the Forever Learning Institute, visit foreverlearninginstitute.org. Finnessy can be contacted at 574-282-1901, or via email at email@example.com. It is housed at St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church, at 54191 Ironwood Road in South Bend.