Brief History of The Second Half: Lifelong Learning Institute
Written by Fred Gifun

Creation Events

It began with a brief conversation in late 1999 in the University Advising Center. Ellen Christie was a temporary, grant-funded employee in the Center. Her immediate supervisor, Shaleen Barnes, who was also on the Board of the University’s Gerontology Center, asked Ellen to look into forming a lifelong learning program. Ms. Barnes’ intention was for the lifelong learning institute to be placed administratively under the Gerontology Center (where it remained for the first four years—from 2000 to 2004). Ellen made an early presentation to the new University Retirement Association and succeeded in luring some retired faculty and deans into the early planning phase of what became The Second Half.

Membership and self-governance were the guiding concepts from the outset. The Institute was designed to meet the two major goals of the lifelong learning movement: intellectual stimulation and social interaction. The first set of courses was offered on campus in the fall 2000 semester, with advertising and listing in the catalogue of the Division of Continuing Education—which received a percentage of tuition revenue, as did the Gerontology Center. Eight courses [1] were offered to about 60 students that first semester, of which six study groups ran 10 or 11 weeks. Six  of the courses were academic, and the pattern of seminar-style, participatory instruction and involvement was already established as the standard. teraction was achieved both through the interactive courses themselves, as well as open houses, potlucks, and occasional trips.

The organizational structure of The Second Half was worked out in general terms during the first two years. Ellen Christie assumed the position of paid (somewhat of a euphemism) Director, and a Board of Directors was created by fall 2001. All of the pioneer members [2] of the Institute contributed toward its early organizational development, although Dr. Joyce Passos, former Dean of Nursing at the University, the Institute’s first president, had a major impact on governance and the administrative structure; June Johnson, the first chair of the Membership Committee, incorporated practices and goals based in part on her experience with the Harvard LIR Institute; and Catherine Williams set the standard for course offerings as chair of the Curriculum Committee.

Leaving the Campus

The University was expanding its presence in the region at the time The Second Half (TSH) was formed. Part of the University’s “outreach” was the establishment of satellite locations in Fall River and New Bedford, both in former Cherry and Webb department store buildings. In 2002, renovation of the Fall River facility was far enough along to allow TSH to move its operations into the new site. Dr. Joyce Passos, writing as the Institute’s first president, took note of this change in the TSH newsletter of October 22, 2002:

Just when you think everything is under control, you realize you just don’t understand the situation! Just six months ago, I shared with you my impression of the relative tranquility of our fourth semester of The Second Half (TSH) study groups. ‘This has been a busy term, but seems smoother and more permanent as we move along in our history.’ So much for tranquility!

Little did we imagine that the press of increased enrollment at both the university and in TSH would seriously impede our ability to schedule, on campus, a full complement of study groups for our current fifth semester. As that possibility became reality in late June, we were blessed with an unexpected opportunity to lease space in the new UMass Dartmouth Professional and Continuing Education [formerly, DCE] Center in Fall River. Thanks to Joan Boucher, Pete Boudreau, June Johnson, and Catherine Williams who joined Ellen Christie and me on the hottest day in the summer to crawl through the raw construction site to determine the feasibility of our basing our operation in the Fall River facility. On the favorable recommendation of those who made the site visit, we polled the Board of Directors and received unanimous support for the move. We will pay the Division of Continuing Education an annual fee to lease our new office and classroom space, which will result in a membership [and registration] fee of $125 beginning in the Spring 2003 semester.

The office and classrooms of the Institute were now brought together in an attractive new setting. From this point, the original arrangements with the University were beginning to feel somewhat artificial and restrictive: TSH ended its fiscal-sharing arrangement with DCE in January 2002, since it was already doing all its own registration and the connection was no longer serving a useful purpose, especially since DCE took $68 of each student’s $190 annual tuition in overhead. The relationship with the Gerontology Center soon underwent a similar evaluation and was also found wanting. TSH was sending 25% of its net profits to the Center, but services were no longer being provided. In a special meeting on June 25, 2003, the Board voted to end the arrangement with its “umbrella” organization.

New Affiliation with the University

In place of these original ties, the Institute aligned itself with the UMD Foundation, itself a fiscally-independent entity of the University. A formal contract between the Foundation and TSH was signed in August 2004 providing TSH’s formal liaison with the University, and its financial services. This arrangement, which served to further the missions of both organizations, endured almost ten years, before it was abruptly ended by the Foundation when a new Director decided, in April 2013, that The Second Half was no longer eligible to use (for a fee) the bookkeeping services and tax-exempt status of the Foundation. This decision prompted the Institute to incorporate as a non-profit entity in Massachusetts in June 2013, establish its own bank accounts and insurance, and to seek federal status as a 501 (c) (3) tax exempt non-profit institute under federal statute.

The Foundation’s decision to sever its ties to The Second Half also meant the termination of the Institute’s formal affiliation with the University.  We, in The Second Half (now a fully independent non-profit corporation) are confident that we will thrive.

Name changes and growth

The Second Half continued to develop on the foundation set by the founders and others who joined it in those early years. Joyce Passos suggested the Institute’s original name: The Second Half: Lifelong-learning @ 50+. The subtitle was adopted to accommodate the Institute’s young (early 50s) founder, but the nuance was lost on later members. In 2005, the name was changed to eliminate any age-barrier to membership (and to get rid of that irksome @). The primary name was retained, with its notion of a “second act” in life, but the subtitle was changed to the more descriptive, Lifelong Learning Institute.

Growth has been fairly constant since the beginning; TSH membership rose to 232 in its tenth-anniversary year, and reached 330 by spring 2013. Over 30 courses (just over half classified as academic “study groups”) were offered in each semester (fall 2012, and spring 2013) of the 2012-2013 school-year.

This rapid growth indicates that the demand for the services and opportunities provided by The Second Half in the SouthCoast is strong and increasing (undoubtedly aligned with the ongoing retirement of the “baby-boom” generation). What is also apparent from the first thirteen years is that our intrinsic value is not enough; we have had to market the concept of lifelong learning–and our Institute–energetically and imaginatively. The most dramatic, recent example of this was the success of our Northeast Regional Conference, which drew over 150 participants from around the Northeast to New Bedford in April 2013.

The Second Half is, de facto, the lifelong learning institute of the South Coast. Our steadily-increasing membership is helping us fulfill the central mission of lifelong learning among the growing number of older adults in the region.

[Please note that we have progressed alot in the past 2 years.  An update is in the works!!  We are now an independent non-profit organization with offices and classrooms in our “own” building.]


[1] The Fall 2000 courses were: You and Your Money, Introduction to Local History, The (2000) Presidential Election in Perspective, Women and the Sea, Cultural Extinction, Life reflections, Sketching Outdoors, Unraveling the Mysteries of Wine.

[2] Founding members* and officers/committee chairs of the first Board of Directors (2001): Joan Boucher and JoAnne McGuinness, Special Events; Pete Boudreau, Secretary; Leonora Brown, Vice President; Ellen Christie,* founder and Director; Julie Cleare;* Carol Cummings (at large); Al Humphrey, Treasurer; June Johnson, Membership; Claire Kenney, Publicity; Marianne Naedele (at large); Joyce Passos,* President; Richard Ward,* Catherine Williams, Curriculum; Ester Zemetz (at large).