The Center for Lifelong Learning was formed in 2021 by the merger of the Academy for Lifelong Learning and the McGrath Computer Learning Center. Both predecessor organizations were associated with the Office of External Programs, Continuing Education, and Conferences of the University of South Carolina Aiken. The Center continues this association.
In the summer of 1989 the dreams of three individuals merged and began to take shape. Ida Crawford Stewart, then Vice President of Estee Lauder, Inc., a native of South Carolina, and a former resident of Aiken, believed that people of all ages should continue to maximize their individual potential. To further this belief, she established an irrevocable trust at the University of South Carolina Aiken (USC Aiken) to create a Chair in the Department of Sociology in Gerontology.
Dr. Robert Alexander, Chancellor of USC Aiken at that time, agreed with Mrs. Stewart and asked Dr. Mary Leslie Hudson, then Dean of Continuing Education at USC Aiken, and Dr. Trudy Henson, then Chair of the Sociology Department at USC Aiken, to present a plan by which USC Aiken could serve the rapidly growing population of older persons within the university’s service area.
Into this scene came Dr. Earl F. Kauffman who, at the age of 82 years, who was seeking a new challenge. Dr. Kauffman had served for 25 years on the faculty of the University of Kentucky (U.K.), during which he organized the Council on Aging at U.K.
Following his retirement from U.K., he continued to work on behalf of the elderly and organized the Community Activity Program at Hawthorne-at-Leesburg, an adult community in central Florida. Upon his arrival in Aiken, he held a series of conferences with leaders serving older persons in the Aiken area. From these meetings he recruited members for a planning committee to develop and implement a program for the community’s mature residents.
Working under the direction of Dr. Kauffman, this committee, composed of mature learners from the Aiken community, formulated a mission statement for what was to become the Academy for Lifelong Learning: To provide opportunities for men and women to get the most out of their lives. By late January of 1990 the Academy was ready to offer opportunities for people sixty years of age and older to come back to school “to learn without having to take tests.”
January 22, 1990, was the inaugural meeting of the Aiken Academy for Lifelong Learning. Dr. Warner Montgomery, editor of the Star Reporter in Columbia, SC., spoke before more than 300 persons at the Etherredge Center on the USC Aiken campus. Dr. Montgomery’s topic was Preparing for the Next Century—The Maturity Spiral, a discussion of the pace of change in our society.
In the ensuing months interested members formed focus groups to identify projects of major interest to Academy members. A monthly newsletter was established to provide news about programs, members, and special USC Aiken resources and events. The Maturity Spiral, taken from the title of Dr. Montgomery’s January address, was chosen as the name for the newsletter, as it seemed to capture the rhythm and meaning of the Academy program. In 1997 the name of the newsletter was shortened to The Spiral.
In 1990/1991, the first full academic year of operation, the Aiken Academy for Lifelong Learning attracted 125 members who attended more than 25 forums, field visits, and special events.
Dr. Kauffman served as Director of the Academy until his death, shortly after the beginning of the Academy’s initial Fall term, on October 19, 1990, having successfully established the Academy that was to continue his dream. Each spring, the Academy presents the Earl F. Kauffman Award in his honor, to recognize a group or individual that has provided outstanding contributions to the Academy.
By 1993 interest in the Academy had grown rapidly and there were requests to lower the age at which people might join. Responding to this interest, the Board of Regents acted to formalize 55 years as the minimum age for membership. In 1997, the Board of Regents removed the numerical limit and formalized “mature adult” as the age requirement for membership.
From its modest beginnings in 1989, the Academy evolved into a multi-faceted program that provided hundreds of area adults with a wide range of fun and educational opportunities. Each semester the Academy offered short courses and events covering a broad span of interests, ranging from art, music, literature, and science to hobbies, cooking, current events, religion, and both local and broader ranging history.