RVC’s Center for Learning in Retirement has wide variety of offerings for expanding population

By Lynne Conner for Chronicle Media

Center for Learning in Retirement advisory committee secretary Carol Nelson at the CLR Bell School Road Center office. (Photo by Lynne Conner/for Chronicle Media)

Delving into local history, learning about a new hobby and traveling to exotic places are all possible without ever having to leave northern Illinois, thanks to Rock Valley College’s Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR).

This unique program offers classes, lectures and trips for adults aged 50 plus at locations throughout the Rockford area.

“The 2023-2024 academic year marks the 30th anniversary of CLR, which was the vision of our former director, Sara Skaggs,” said CLR program director Tammy Lewis. “Sara saw that Rock Valley College had classes for children through the Wiz Kids program and classes for adults with continuing education, but there were no courses geared toward older adults until the development of CLR in 1993.”

Lewis noted that the Center for Learning in Retirement currently has over 1,300 members, and the program grows yearly in response to the region’s expanding senior population.

“CLR offers a wide variety of classes to attract a wide variety of people,” she said “The spring 2024 semester includes around 150 classes in 13 different topic areas. We have classes ranging from art and history to health, wellness, travel, tours and computers.”

She said that local history classes are among the most popular CLR courses.

“People want to learn more about Rockford. Whether someone has lived here their entire life or has recently moved to this area, there is always something new to learn about local history,” Lewis said.

CLR program director Tammy Lewis in the Bell School Road Center CLR library. (Photo by Lynne Conner/ for Chronicle Media)

While many CLR classes meet at the RVC Bell School Road Center (3350 N. Bell School Road, Rockford), other classes have a “field trip” format and include tours of locales like the Brown Hills neighborhood, the Chicago-Rockford International Airport, Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful Recycling Center and the Poor Clares of Rockford Corpus Christi Monastery.

“Every other month, we offer a day trip within a two-hour radius of Rockford, like Chicago, Milwaukee, Galena, and Madison, where we typically visit museums, historical sites, or theaters,” Lewis said.  “CLR also offers multiple-day bus trips, like the one scheduled for this April. Members will fly down to New Orleans and take a motor coach back, visiting historical sites along the way.”

Before COVID-19, CLR had sponsored foreign trips, which Lewis hopes will start again in 2025.

“Our first overseas trip was to England, Scotland and Wales. We have also taken groups to Italy and Ireland,” she said.

A curriculum committee comprising CLR instructors and class participants determines the CLR courses offered.

“We have well over 100 volunteers who teach, facilitate and decide what topics are slated for each semester,” Lewis said. “It’s amazing to see our CLR members’ wealth of knowledge and personal contacts. These relationships draw the community into our program as instructors and members.

“Our CLR curriculum committee relies on their personal and professional connections to generate class topic ideas for upcoming semesters,” Lewis added. “We also get course suggestions from CLR members through the surveys they complete after class.”

One of the biggest perks of the CLR program is its low-cost membership fee of $35 per year. CLR classes are also very affordable and start at $15 per session. Fitness classes, tours and day trips typically cost between $20 and $150.

CLR advisory committee secretary Carol Nelson has been an active member for the past 13 years and is the program’s biggest proponent.

“The key to healthy aging is threefold: being physically active, having social connections and keeping your mind active. CLR courses encompass all three of these goals in retirement,” she said.

“Our members look forward to attending the classes and meeting others with similar interests. CLR gets you out and active in the community with trips, walking tours and fitness classes,” Nelson said. “The program is truly a one-stop shop for life-long learning.”

For more information or to join CLR, contact the CLR office at (815)921-3931 or online at www.rockvalleycollege.edu/community/center-for-learning-in-retirement/index