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The Center for Lifelong Learning was formed in 2021 by the merger of the Academy for Lifelong Learning and the McGrath Computer Learning Center. Both predecessor organizations were affiliated with the Office of External Programs, Continuing Education, and Conferences of the University of South Carolina Aiken, as is the Center. Below is a short history of the two predecessor organizations.
Each predecessor organization maintained its own website before the merger. Information from those two websites is archived here.
In the summer of 1989 the dreams of three individuals merged and began to take shape. Ida Crawford Stewart, then Vice President of Estee Lauder, Inc., a native of South Carolina, and a former resident of Aiken, believed that people of all ages should continue to maximize their individual potential. To further this belief, she established an irrevocable trust at the University of South Carolina Aiken (UofSC Aiken) to create a Chair in the Department of Sociology in Gerontology.
Dr. Robert Alexander, Chancellor of UofSC Aiken at that time, agreed with Mrs. Stewart and asked Dr. Mary Leslie Hudson, then Dean of Continuing Education at UofSC Aiken, and Dr. Trudy Henson, then Chair of the Sociology Department at UofSC Aiken, to present a plan by which UofSC Aiken could serve the rapidly growing population of older persons within the university’s service area.
Into this scene came Dr. Earl F. Kauffman who, at the age of 82 years, who was seeking a new challenge. Dr. Kauffman had served for 25 years on the faculty of the University of Kentucky (U.K.), during which he organized the Council on Aging at U.K.
Following his retirement from U.K., he continued to work on behalf of the elderly and organized the Community Activity Program at Hawthorne-at-Leesburg, an adult community in central Florida. Upon his arrival in Aiken, he held a series of conferences with leaders serving older persons in the Aiken area. From these meetings he recruited members for a planning committee to develop and implement a program for the community’s mature residents.
Working under the direction of Dr. Kauffman, this committee, composed of mature learners from the Aiken community, formulated a mission statement for what was to become the Academy for Lifelong Learning: To provide opportunities for men and women to get the most out of their lives. By late January of 1990 the Academy was ready to offer opportunities for people sixty years of age and older to come back to school “to learn without having to take tests.”
January 22, 1990, was the inaugural meeting of the Aiken Academy for Lifelong Learning. Dr. Warner Montgomery, editor of the Star Reporter in Columbia, SC., spoke before more than 300 persons at the Etherredge Center on the UofSC Aiken campus. Dr. Montgomery’s topic was Preparing for the Next Century—The Maturity Spiral, a discussion of the pace of change in our society.
In the ensuing months interested members formed focus groups to identify projects of major interest to Academy members. A monthly newsletter was established to provide news about programs, members, and special UofSC Aiken resources and events. The Maturity Spiral, taken from the title of Dr. Montgomery’s January address, was chosen as the name for the newsletter, as it seemed to capture the rhythm and meaning of the Academy program. In 1997 the name of the newsletter was shortened to The Spiral.
In 1990/1991, the first full academic year of operation, the Aiken Academy for Lifelong Learning attracted 125 members who attended more than 25 forums, field visits, and special events.
Dr. Kauffman served as Director of the Academy until his death, shortly after the beginning of the Academy’s initial Fall term, on October 19, 1990, having successfully established the Academy that was to continue his dream. Each spring, the Academy presents the Earl F. Kauffman Award in his honor, to recognize a group or individual that has provided outstanding contributions to the Academy.
By 1993 interest in the Academy had grown rapidly and there were requests to lower the age at which people might join. Responding to this interest, the Board of Regents acted to formalize 55 years as the minimum age for membership. In 1997, the Board of Regents removed the numerical limit and formalized “mature adult” as the age requirement for membership.
From its modest beginnings in 1989, the Academy evolved into a multi-faceted program that provided hundreds of area adults with a wide range of fun and educational opportunities. Each semester the Academy offered short courses and events covering a broad span of interests, ranging from art, music, literature, and science to hobbies, cooking, current events, religion, and both local and broader ranging history.
By the late 1990s computers had become integral to most businesses and personal computers were more and more prevalent in homes. People who were already retired and those who did not work outside the home tended to miss the computer age tidal wave, but seemed to recognize that personal computers were here to stay. They wanted an opportunity to learn about and participate in the technology age.
In 1997, Bruce McGrath, a retired IBM executive, was looking for something to do. He learned about the national organization SeniorNet, whose mission was to teach seniors about computers. SeniorNet provided training to volunteers and training materials to be modified locally. Bruce began work to establish a SeniorNet Learning Center in Aiken. And so the Aiken branch of SeniorNet, sponsored by UofSC Aiken, was created. Members of the Aiken Computer Club became SeniorNet volunteers to serve as instructors to provide basic computer training to seniors in Aiken.
UofSC Aiken provided the classroom, a converted storage room in the basement of the Gregg Library. The first classes were held in August 1999.
As the focus of SeniorNet classes was to introduce seniors to personal computers, all of the first courses offered were beginning level. The classes were small (no more than 10 students) with lots of individual attention (an instructor and 1–3 coaches depending on the number of students) and adults teaching adults.
Aiken SeniorNet soon realized that local seniors wanted more than an introduction. They wanted to hone and grow their computer skills. In January 2008, the classroom moved from the basement of the UofSC Aiken Library to a separate building beside the UofSC Aiken tennis courts. At this point, the Aiken SeniorNet Learning Center was offering intermediate and advanced courses to 300 to 500 adults each year. A grant from the state of South Carolina, facilitated by Skipper Perry, went to upgrade the computers in the Learning Center.
In 2014, the local organization, which had grown to about 70 volunteers and assumed more of the manual writing previously provided by SeniorNet, decided that it was time to leave SeniorNet. The McGrath Computer Learning Center, Inc., a fully independent 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation, was charted August 19, 2014. The new organization offered its first classes in January 2015.
As an independent organization, McGrath could be more responsive and provide better value to the Aiken community needs. As technology grew, McGrath responded by offering courses covering phones and tablets and popular applications. In 2017, it added courses for Apple devices iPad, iPhone, and iMac.