Betty Zilius will celebrate her 92nd birthday in November. In the meantime, the effervescent Oak Park resident is “having a jolly good time” at the Lifelong Learning Center of Oak Park and River Forest.

A member since 2005, Zilius enjoys visiting the senior citizen center a couple of times a week to take creative crochet classes, socialize, and have lunch at the adjacent Oak Park Arms, an independent and assisted living retirement community.

“I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of none,” Zilius said with a laugh. “I have to use a cane now, but I was like Speedy Gonzales at one time. The Lifelong Learning Center is a nice place to come. I’ve learned so much about different people and places. It’s like another family.”

With approximately 200 members at the center, Executive Director Domenica Abbott is concentrating on increasing membership, class offerings, program outreach and fundraising to foster social opportunities for senior citizens. Membership costs $35 annually, which includes the use of multiple arts and crafts studios and an offering of eclectic classes.

Featuring a weaving room holding several looms, a fully equipped lapidary shop, a wood shop and a ceramics studio with a potter’s wheel and kiln, the Lifelong Learning Center certainly offers unique opportunities. Members can make items for sale at various community events, or may purchase them at discount as gifts for family and friends.

Other membership privileges include Italian and German language classes, art classes, singing classes and a Scribblers writing club. Set to debut this fall, day trips, fitness classes, bike riding, grandparents/grandchildren activities, drawing instruction and a quilting class will offer more choices for seniors.

“We’re focused on giving senior citizens activities, programs and a whole new social network,” Abbott said. “Community involvement for senior citizens is very high. It helps them have a more independent and healthier lifestyle. They feel useful because they’re doing something.”

Mary Fraser, a volunteer ceramics instructor, believes the center benefits everybody involved.

“It’s nice because you can try everything and see what you like,” she said. “It’s a great way for people to keep their mind active. It’s good for people on a social level and a physical level. The classes are fun and allow for a lot of creativity.”

In the weaving room, about 13 members gather to create rugs, placemats, shawls, towels and other items. One of the few experienced weavers is a 90-year-old blind woman who has been honing her craft for more than 25 years.

“We have a mixture of men and women [ranging from ages in the 50s to 90s] who weave,” said member Lia Brillhart. “I started volunteering [here] in my 40s when my mother was a member. When I retired, I started coming here two days a week. I didn’t know how to weave; I learned here and I enjoy helping other people.”

On Sept. 11, the center hosted the Ulyssean Award Dinner and Auction fundraiser honoring Sandra and David Sokol in recognition of their service to the Oak Park community. Also, some Lifelong Learning Center members will embark on a two-week cruise in Russia Oct. 1-16.

“Every day is a new adventure,” Abbott said. “I’ve noticed our members like the classes, but I think they enjoy the interaction with other people the most.”

Zilius’ joie de vivre embodies the Lifelong Learning Center’s mission, which is to inspire adults over 50.

“I enjoy life,” she said. “When you’re positive and active, people don’t feel sorry for you.”

Lifelong Learning Center

414 S. Oak Park Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302

For senior citizens. The agency’s goal is to inspire senior citizens through education and social and cultural activities to continue learning, gain independence and become active members of the community.

How a volunteer can help:

With weekend sidewalk sales in May and June

If you want to volunteer, call or e-mail:

848-5251 or

Donations other than money:

New or almost-new long lengths of cotton fabric, queen-size quilt backing; oil, acrylic and watercolor paints; blank canvasses; new or almost-new frames with or without glass; lapidary equipment or supplies; pieces of nice wood (walnut, oak, maple) to be used for showcasing stones; yarn swifts

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...