This past Wednesday, Jackie Gratz retired after more than a decade as director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University. The next day, plans were in place to honor Jackie with a reception and concert. But just as Jackie was getting ready to head home on her last day of work, all of the lights went out, the computers went dark, and the air conditioning went silent. Utility workers outside had inadvertently cut the power, leaving the entire block quietly twiddling their thumbs and trying to determine how to survive the rest of the work day without modern technology. Jackie smiled and said, “see, I’m going out with a whimper.” But I’m not quite sure that Jackie has ever done anything with a whimper. She is admired at Osher and at Towson University for her accomplishments thanks to her leadership and determination.
Before becoming an Osher Institute, the lifelong learning program at Towson University was known as the Auburn Society. Jackie joined as a Charter member along with husband, Eric Gratz, in 1999. Initially, Jackie was the volunteer chairperson of the curriculum committee. Her previous career as associate professor of history at Mount Saint Agnes College along with her commitment to the ideals of lifelong learning enabled her to implement a solid curriculum for the Auburn Society. A few years later, she was asked to become director. In 2006, the Auburn Society became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University after being awarded the first of three $100,000 grants from the Bernard Osher Foundation. It was Jackie who pursued this opportunity and worked with the University’s Development Office to apply for the grants. These grants and the subsequent $1 million Endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation, awarded in 2009, proved to be pivotal to the long-term growth and success of the program.
From its early days with a membership of about 250 and classes that met just twice a week, under Jackie’s leadership the program has grown to a membership of 700 with a robust schedule of classes that meet 4 days per week during fall and spring semesters along with lectures offered in the summer and winter. The program had a number of nomadic years before finally settling down in its current home at 7400 York Road. Despite the numerous relocations, the Osher program has taken root. The members appreciate the array of classes and welcoming community that Osher offers. In its permanent space, the extracurricular and social programming has had a chance to thrive in the form of book clubs, discussion groups, and day trips. But the core of the program remains the strong curriculum. For Jackie, working closely with the curriculum committee to come up with ideas for courses, seeking out instructors, and providing high-quality academic classes for the Osher membership has been most rewarding. Her goal was to offer a quality educational experience that would make members feel great about “going back to school”.
Jackie grew up in what she calls a “down-to-earth” environment in North Carolina in the 1940s where she learned to have a tough work-ethic and to meet her challenges head-on. With a love of home decorating, cooking, and gardening, she had planned to major in Home Economics in college but changed her major to History. She has a particular interest in Russian history but has a broad scope of interests and did, in fact, become a Master Gardener as an adult. In retirement, she plans to keep up with her love of plants if not necessarily the chore of actually gardening. She has been an avid swimmer for years and will continue to swim for exercise. Of course, she will be exercising her mind as well—reading more and taking classes.
Those who were able to attend the retirement reception last week were treated to several speakers whose remarks underscored the positive impact that Jackie has had on this Osher Institute. And on that night, she also received two citations from the Maryland General Assembly for her service to Osher and to Towson University. She has also been recognized with the 2007 Spirit of the University Award, Towson University Alumni Association’s award to an outstanding person who has directly influenced and touched Towson University alumni, students, or the University community. In 2015, she received the Award of Excellence from TU’s Division of Innovation and Applied Research.
The reception was capped by a celebratory concert featuring Osher instructors, Seth Kibel and Daryl Davis. Thankfully, the utility crews had restored power the day before so that on this evening, Jackie would not go out with a whimper. Thank you, Jackie, for all of your service and dedication. Everyone at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University appreciates all you’ve done.