Friday, May 23, 2014

Continuing Ed in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler

OLLI by Reeves
OLLI birders at the Tunica Hills Campground -
photo by Darlene Reaves
The Boomer Generation, just reaching retirement age in remarkably good physical and mental shape, is not surrendering to old age without a fight. Instead, they are running marathons and racing bikes, beginning new careers and travelling to all corners of the globe. The rocking chairs on the porches of their mountain chalets are strictly for apr├Ęs ski, and when they consider relocating in their retirement years, lifestyle enhancements are even more important than economic opportunities.

Besides physical challenges, these busy Boomers are looking for creative inspiration and mental stimulation as well. Fortunately today, even a small rural community like St. Francisville, LA, can augment the appeal of its peaceful pastoral landscape and intriguing history by offering retirees---in fact anyone over fifty---a myriad of ways to keep minds active well into retirement, thanks to a program familiarly known as OLLI at LSU.

Advocate columnist Smiley Anders (center) presented the program for May’s Coffee at the Feliciana Chapter of OLLI in St. Francisville. Photo by Darlene Reaves.

Begun at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1996 as Lagniappe Studies, in 2007 the program became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at LSU (OLLI), joining a nationwide network of programs devoted to lifelong learning. Today OLLI at LSU has five area chapters and over 1,300 members, with volunteer leadership from local chapters planning courses, coffees and field trips with the support of LSU Continuing Education staff.

Sample courses fall into the categories of the Arts, Languages, Humanities, Social Sciences, Personal Enrichment, and Technology. Oil and watercolor painting, art history, opera and film are some Arts offerings, while Language courses have included French, Cajun French, Spanish and Italian. In the Humanities, course offerings have included such topics as the History of Medicine, The Letters of Paul, The World of Anton Chekhov and the Breakup of American Democracy, while Social Sciences classes include such topics as the Changing Media Landscape, Great Decisions, Current Moral Problems and Financial Strategies for a Successful Retirement. Yoga, Gardening, Bridge, Birding, Life Writing, Line and Square Dancing are just a few of the Personal Enrichment offerings, and Technology classes cover iPhones, i-Pads, Cloud, and Getting the Best from the Internet.
OLLI by Reeves
"It's a Watson!" Great OLLI Felicianas coffee today - photo by Darlene Reaves

Courses are taught by a wide variety of instructors, experts in their fields, many of them retired Ph.D. college professors. There are three semesters each year, and most classes meet once a week 9:30-11:30 a.m. for four weeks. Besides courses held in more than 23 locations throughout South Louisiana, there are Field Trips exploring interesting nearby locations, Coffees with speakers and refreshments, and Nature Walks accompanied by experienced naturalists.

There are OLLI chapters in Ascension, Assumption and the Feliciana Parishes, as well as a Cajun Prairie Chapter in Eunice, and a large Lagniappe Chapter in Baton Rouge. In all, OLLI has 1,386 active members who had the opportunity to participate in more than 213 activities in 2013-2014.  OLLI members may attend activities offered by any of the five chapters. Membership, open to anyone 50 years or over who enjoys learning, is $40 annually, tax deductible, plus minimal course fees and only occasional required texts. Information is available from OLLI at LSU, 1225 Pleasant Hall, LSU, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803; telephone 225-578-6763; email .

The steadily growing Feliciana Chapter in St. Francisville has more than 170 members, with an ambitious schedule of 53 activities offered throughout the year; in all, there were some 676 participants. Limited summer session begins in July with Yoga and a literature class on Memoirs, and there are field trips and coffees scheduled for the fall as well as a full schedule of exciting classes in other subjects. Some classes have been so popular that participants were reluctant to let them end and have started clubs---Spanish, Bridge and Birding groups continue to get together on a regular basis.

Walker Percy
In addition to the continuing stimulation of engaging OLLI classes, St. Francisville residents and visitors can look forward to the inaugural Walker Percy Weekend June 6 to 8th, a literary festival of panel discussions and fun extra activities involving progressive front-porch bourbon tastings, crawfish boils and craft beer under the oaks, and field trips to antebellum homes, the local nuclear plant, state penitentiary and other sites significant in Percy’s writings. Friday evening features the screening of an LBP documentary on the author, and Saturday the discussions include “Cinematic Catechism,” “Lost in the Cosmos,” “Place and Non-Place” as related to Percy’s works. A digital recording project will encourage participants to contribute their own experiences to the LSU Library’s oral history archives. Saturday night’s Dinner in the Park features Louisiana cuisine and Sunday morning participants can attend mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

St. Francisville is also the site of the annual Day The War Stopped on June 13, 14 and 15, a re-enactment of the 1863 burial of a Union gunboat commander in the cemetery at Grace Episcopal in a rare moment of civility amidst a bloody war. A tribute to the universality of Masonic brotherhood---Union and Confederate Masons participated in the burial service along with the Episcopal rector---the weekend includes graveyard histories, historical presentations, vintage dancing and music, a touching drama and re-enactment of the actual burial, plus special activities at both local state historic sites, Oakley and Rosedown Plantations.

wagon day the war stopped
The Day the War Stopped
photo by ptWalsh
 Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit, or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities). For special events information online: (for schedule information; all events are free and open to the public); (for ticket and schedule information).