Learning for a lifetime: Rolling Hills man started a senior learning institution

Burt Cutler with his wife Diana on January 30, 2014. Courtesy of Omnilore.

Burt Cutler with his wife Diana on January 30, 2014. Courtesy of Omnilore.

Burt Cutler had an indisputable voracity for knowledge. It fuelled his weekly, 54-mile round-trip “schleps” from Rolling Hills to UCLA, where he would battle for a parking spot so he could participate in the school’s PLATO Society, a community of retired seniors who meet in member-led discussion groups to further intellectual growth. But after eight years, fed up with the traffic and expensive parking, Cutler started his own lifelong learning organisation closer to home. In 1990, he founded Omnilore — which means “all knowledge” in Latin. The group had about ten members at its inception, but after becoming affiliated in 1992 with Cal State Dominguez Hills in nearby Carson, the group’s membership quickly grew to 60. Today, Omnilore boasts 300 members and is ever growing.

Cutler, who died of pneumonia on July 31, created an intellectual and community institution for seniors in the South Bay. He was 89.

“He was one of the most generous people i’ve known,” said Mike Scordan, a long time Omnilore member and Cutler’s close friend. “He spent 12 years trying to teach me golf. I never did get it but he kept trying.”

OMNILORE

Twice a month, a group of 60, 70, 80, and 90-somethings make their way to the Franklin Center on Inglewood Avenue in Redondo Beach to learn from each other. Instead of teachers, there are coordinators. In lieu of students, there are members. The two-hour classes are structured like college seminars, with one hour usually dedicated to a presentation given by a member and the other hour to a discussion of the presentation and course text. Classes are capped at about 20 members, and run the gamut from “Atheistic Spirituality” to “Winston Churchill: His Life and Legacy”. One course for the fall trimester is being coordinated by Omnilore member Frank Reiner, who moved to El Segundo last year from Chicago, where he served as president of a similar lifelong learning institute. Reiner’s course “Covering The New Yorker” will prompt discussions of thought-provoking articles from the magazine and has 16 members signed up, 12 of whom hold long-time subscriptions to the magazine.

The courses are certainly intellectually stimulating, but many Omniloreans also value the community the organisation provides.

“I really like the people,” said Howard Korman, president of Omnilore. “That to me is the best part. I find [members] come from so many different walks of life. Most have had very successful careers and are really interesting people.”

Korman was an aerospace engineer for 38 years, and holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Mathematics from Harvard.

“I’ve had a left brain career,” Korman said. “But Omnilore has allowed me to take the right brain courses….Omnilore is exercise for the mind.”

Omniloreans Jay Edie, Myron Pullen and Blanche Herring learn computer skills together. Courtesy of Omnilore.

Omniloreans Jay Edie, Myron Pullen and Blanche Herring learn computer skills together. Courtesy of Omnilore.

While Omnilore’s focus is academia, the organisation also hosts recreational activities. John Taber, a 37-year resident of Rolling Hills Estates and early Omnilore member, started a hiking group among members. Taber had been a longtime hiker with the environmental group The Sierra Club and led many Omnilore hikes around the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The group, now led by Omnilore member Steve Miller, has expanded its coverage to areas as far as Pasadena or Hollywood. Taber, 89, still advocates for the group but has stopped partaking due to back and muscle problems.

Palos Verdes Peninsula residents make up the biggest share of Omnilore’s members. Of the organisation’s 300 members, about 90 members hail from Palos Verdes, 70 from Redondo Beach, 33 from Manhattan Beach, 15 from Hermosa Beach, 47 from Torrance, 24 from San Pedro, 10 from Los Angeles, and 15 from other local areas.

Omnilore holds a forum at Los Verdes Country Club four times a year, where they cater a three-course lunch (with vegetarian options available) and have a guest speaker talk about an interesting topic for about an hour.

“Omnilore, it’s not for everybody,” Reiner said, who highlighted the amount of participation and work necessitated by the program. “It’s almost like a no pain no gain. You have to be much more active. You have assignments and have to do presentations.”

But Reiner acknowledged that Omnilore helped him learn more than he would have simply by reading a text. In the Atheistic Spirituality course, Reiner chose to learn more about Buddhism.

“Through networking, I went to a Buddhist meeting and came away being able to talk about so much more than just basic principles,” Reiner said. “I learned myself much more than if i had read a pamphlet.”

Join Omnilore for $120 a year or $210 for a couple. Members are accepted three times a year at the start of every semester. Visit omnilore.org for more information.

Comments:

comments so far. Comments posted to EasyReaderNews.com may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.