Thirst for Knowledge: Decatur woman introduced to art, Italian, pickleball and mixology through lifelong learning institute

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

Four decades after graduating from college, Betty Koval returned to school in 2016.

In the past six years, the 68-year-old Decatur woman took classes on drawing, beginning Italian, mahjong, pickleball, tai chi, pandemics through the arts, stress relief, tailgating foods and mixology.

“I have had the most fun. Going to classes has kept my mind active, my body moving and me socializing with my peers. That is the foundation of OLLI,” Koval said.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — better known as OLLI — organizes classes for adults. The subjects range from classes on art, space, history and language to crocheting, yoga, diversity and Dolly Parton.

“OLLI at UAH provides mature adults a safe, comfortable and intellectually stimulating on-campus environment that supports lifelong learning and enhances community outreach with our local community. OLLI at UAH advances the educational, cultural and social interests of its members,” said Clay Williams, program manager of OLLI at UAH.

While the majority of the institute’s members are 50 and older, individuals of any age can become members and register for the courses.

The husband-and-wife duo of Bill and Betty Koval represent two of the 650 north Alabamians who attend OLLI at UAH.

The couple, who lived in Decatur from 2002 to 2004 due to Bill Koval’s work at Nucor, retired to the area in 2016. They joined OLLI at UAH after hearing about the classes from a friend.

“Our friend was talking about all these experiences he had at OLLI. We said, that sounds like something we’d like to do. We haven’t stopped going to classes since,” Betty Koval said. “We have a thirst for knowledge and are getting to do things now that we didn’t take the time to do when we were younger.”

Learning art and languages

One of the first courses Betty Koval signed up for was introduction to drawing.

“I always wanted to learn how to draw. I tried it in the past, but didn’t think I did very well. During the class, I found out real quick that I’m not real artistic. I still had fun though,” Betty Koval said. “I also took a class on beginning Italian because we were going to go to Italy. I learned enough to ask questions, ask for change and greet people. That was very advantageous.”

Among the most popular courses is beer making.

“Honestly, most of them don’t care how the beer is made. They are there to sit and socialize,” Betty Koval said.

Other sought-after courses include writing your life’s story and introduction to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Betty Koval leads a course dubbed fireside chats with authors. During the course, she sets up interviews with authors and leads discussions about the “story behind the story.”

OLLI at UAH also provided the Kovals with travel opportunities. In 2017, they went to Washington, D.C., and, in 2019, they took a trip to the northern national parks and visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, the Badlands, Jackson Hole, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore and a Japanese-American confinement site.

Along with taking classes and traveling, Betty Koval enjoys interacting with the college students on campus.

“If I see a student around and they aren’t getting ready to Zoom into a class, I’ll ask them about their career paths and their goals. I love to talk to them. They are so interesting. These young people amaze me,” she said.

Through their connection with OLLI at UAH, the Kovals housed a young man from Nigeria while he pursued a degree from UAH. They also met a young woman who arranged for several hundred third graders to call the International Space Station.

“It takes 30 minutes to get to classes and I can’t think of where else I would go in 30 minutes that I would enjoy as much as these classes,” Betty Koval said. “There are so many things I’ve learned. It just been an amazing experience. It just gives you a rejuvenation and a lift.”

Other individuals with Decatur connections involved with OLLI at UAH include residents David Styers, Steve Stewart and Peggy Allen Towns, and First Presbyterian Church pastor Richard Brooks.

Program schedule

The starting dates of the 2022 academic year for OLLI are June 13 for the summer session, Sept. 12 for the fall session and Jan. 30, 2023, for the spring session. Courses are offered in-person and virtual, online and in-person off campus.

Summer courses include modern wine camp, Juana la Loca: Was this Spanish queen really crazy?, creative cellphone photography, those plucky women of World War II, famous opera singers: their lives, music and legacies, and more. For more information, visit

Athens State programs

The Athens State Center for Lifelong Learning also offers classes for adults in the spring and fall. Past courses included cookie decorating, blacksmithing, chalk art, ghost hunting 101, yoga and writing a memoir. For more information, visit