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Education: Leader of lifelong learning program will step down

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Linda Ketron says she done all she can for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and will leave her post as coordinator for non-accredited and continuing studies at Coastal Carolina University April 1.

She doesn’t like the words resigning or retiring to describe her decision. “There’s no real name for NEXT!” she said. “I need a little time to figure out what the next is.”

Ketron brought her adult education program called CLASS (Community Learning About Special Subjects) under the Coastal Carolina umbrella in 2004 because she thought it was time to institutionalize it. She began it as Senior Semesters in 1993. After about 18 months, the classes moved to Brookgreen Gardens and was renamed Campus Brookgreen while Ketron was coordinator of volunteers. When she left Brookgreen in 1997 to open Art Works in the Litchfield Exchange, CLASS soon followed with 10 courses and about 90 students. It had grown to 80 courses with 600 students by the time CCU came calling with a new facility on Willbrook Boulevard and an opportunity to make the program permanent.

As she leaves 11 years later, Coastal’s OLLI program is the second largest in the nation with 400 classes at four locations: Georgetown, Litchfield, Myrtle Beach and Conway.

Ketron said she would have retired two years ago if the university hadn’t given up its lease on the Willbrook Boulevard building and left the program looking for a new home. “We had to relocate,” Ketron said. “I didn’t want to leave everybody in the lurch and have it feel like I left because I didn’t have a nice building. I didn’t want to leave these people without a home on the south end. I didn’t know who else would be the champion for getting that done. Other than that, I had met all the goals I had.”

Ketron said she secured a million dollar endowment for the program and has raised $450,000 over the last eight years in support grants from the Osher Foundation. She said the university has been incredibly supportive.

“There’s not very much else I wanted to do for the program,” Ketron said. It attracts thousands of students, even some from across the North Carolina line. “The financial profile of the program is very stable,” she added.

About half the money needed to run the program — about half a million dollars a year — comes from in-kind services from CCU and the rest from grants and student fees. Some instructors teach for free, and volunteers do the ambassadorial work of speaking to civic clubs and distributing catalogues.

“It’s a great program, but I’ve done it,” Ketron said. “Let’s see what’s next.”

Kathleen Libbey, who has been both an OLLI instructor and student, said there’s no replacing Linda Ketron. “She drives the program, drives the community to embrace so many things going on,” Libbey said after hearing that Ketron was leaving. “She’s a treasure. A lot of people are afraid there won’t be a program if Linda is gone.”

Ketron won’t slow down, just change directions. She wants to get two stretches of Bike the Neck on the front burner right away. She is a founder of the citizens group that gave its name to the path that runs from Murrells Inlet to Pawleys Island. Bikers are sharing the road with cars on a small stretch in North Litchfield between Trace and Boyle drives. “We need a path through there,” she said. “The other piece will be an enormous recreational magnet from the South Causeway to Hobcaw Barony. People can come and camp at Huntington and go all the way to Hobcaw. Look what Hobcaw has with all their programming, plus they would come right past Brookgreen. People who come on these recreational outings need more than we’ve got.”

Ketron says the “well-heeled” communities along Highway 17 between the South Causeway and Hobcaw would help finance the new stretch of bike path and with state funds and accommodations taxes it can be done. Bike the Neck has a blanket encroachment permit under the Santee Cooper transmission line and the utility will do the prep work. All that’s needed, she said, is paving.

A publishing house for local authors is on Ketron’s hot list, too. She needs an uninterrupted month to work on a book of photos made by Ann Malarich during her 17 years as a volunteer photographer at Brookgreen Gardens. Ketron got the idea to combine the photos with “love letters” from volunteers in verse. “It became so much more than what it was initially,” she said.

Her Moveable Feast program with Litchfield Books has authors like Pat Conroy and Dottie Frank on its schedule this year, and volunteers run the luncheons and the gallery at Litchfield Exchange.

And Ketron would never be happy without a dream project: a performing arts center for the Waccamaw Neck.

“These are things the community needs,” she said. “Let’s do it.”

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