She’s been a real estate agent, a head hunter and a children's programmer at the library. But for Kathy Amos, the thing she’s most proud of is her work with the Brenau University Learning and Leisure Institute.
As the executive director at Brenau’s Center for Lifetime Studies, Amos has overseen the BULLI program, which offers daytime classes for residents in Hall County, for its entire 25-year existence. In July, she will retire.
“There's a lot I want to do and explore and be a part of,” Amos, almost in her 70s now, said of retiring. “I want to be able to sit in on classes and learn myself. I want to be able to do some of the things that I have learned about through our program. I want to be able to volunteer in places that I feel like I can be of service in Gainesville because Gainesville has given me a lot.”
In 1994, Amos worked with Jean Harris, at the time a golf instructor at Brenau, to make the popular Elderhostel program, now known as the Road Scholar program, more accessible.
The Elderhostel program gave people who were 55 or older the chance to travel the country and world to take classes where they could learn about subjects that interested them.
After talking to Hall County residents taking part in those Elderhostel trips, Harris and Amos found that those travelers enjoyed taking part in the programs but wanted to do them more frequently and didn’t want to have to travel as much to do it. So, in 1994, BULLI was born and has been going strong ever since.
At BULLI’s first registration on June 6, 1994 — with homemade registration forms — they had 33 people sign up. By the time classes started in October, they had 148 people signed up to learn subjects like history, religion, politics, literature, art, computers and wellness.
Amos watched the program blossom before her eyes into something she never thought it could be.
“I never thought when I came to this program that I'd be here 25 years,” Amos said. “Never.”
She didn’t do it on her own. It wouldn’t have been possible without volunteers.
Jack Prince was one of those people that signed up 25 years ago when BULLI was first getting off the ground. He and his wife went to the first meeting that was simply sharing the idea and signed up on the spot to become members
“I’m just curious about a lot of things and I enjoy other people,” Prince, 90, said. “One could call it intellectual curiosity. I just like to learn things.”
People like Prince and all the others who have been members and volunteers over the years were all interested in the same thing: learning. That’s what drew Amos’ attention in the first place.
“These programs, these are member-led, member-driven programs,” Amos said. “So if you don't have a volunteer force that is willing to get behind it and do a lot of the work, something like this would never happen.”
She saw the idea of “you’re never too old to learn” becoming more believable for people. And even though she was in her 40s when she started the program, Amos realized she wanted to believe that for herself when she was older.
“People were changing from sitting on their front porch and rocking and watching the soap operas in the afternoon to saying, ‘What is there to do now that I've retired and gotten out in the world?’” Amos said.
Through helping set things up and even teaching a few classes and sitting in on some of her own, Amos had somewhat of a discovery.
“What I realized was that I wanted to be what they were,” Amos said.
That realization of wanting to be active and still learning when she was older is what kept her at the helm of the program for all these years, and now she has the chance to reap the benefits.
“It was just neat,” Amos said of watching the program grow. “It was like, ‘OK, there's life after retirement. There's still things to do.’”
Caroline Kelly realized the same thing after her husband died. She decided to join BULLI after hearing about it around town and said it was a “life-saver.”
“I made a wonderful cadre of friends and have loved the classes and have enjoyed all the activities that have gone with it,” Kelly said. “It has just been a wonderful experience for me.”
The community she found and the people she has met in her 10 years led to Kelly now being the president of BULLI, a role she wasn’t sure she wanted. The program has different volunteer committees like a curriculum committee, finance committee, special events committee and membership committee. Kelly was asked to be president for this year’s program.
“I was very reluctant, but because of what BULLI has done for me, I just felt it was kind of something I owed to this organization that I’ve gotten so much out of,” Kelly said. “I’ve made wonderful friends and they’ve become almost like family to me.”
BULLI isn’t exclusive to Hall County, though. The program through Brenau was modeled after other programs in the region. But what Amos found was the potential members in Hall wanted to go deeper in their learning. A lot of programs have simple, 20- to 30-minute classes for a few weeks. But at BULLI, they wanted things to be different.
“We started out with seven-week classes which met once a week for an hour and a half,” Amos said. “So that's commitment. But that's what our people said they wanted.”
They have been averaging at least 12 classes for the fall, winter and spring quarters and at least eight classes in the summer. Amos said in any given year, there are about 200 class seats taken.
Prince still holds one of those seats.
“My now-deceased wife and I joined at the same time and attended jointly all these years until about four years ago,” Prince said. “And I’m still taking classes now, even at the age of 90.”
A lot of BULLI’s success has to do with Amos’ efforts getting the word out about the program and the way she’s run it.
“She’s kind of held us together, basically, I guess you could say,” Kelly said. “There are going to be some big shoes to fill … I think she’s been a force for the good for BULLI and she’s going to be very hard to replace.”
Amos tries to get people, especially those new to the community, involved with BULLI, and so far, she’s been successful. She said some people even retire to Hall because of the program.
“When it comes down to it, I want to make the community better for older adults,” Amos said. “I like older adults. I always have. Now I am one. But I wanted something really special for the people that are here. And then as we've had people move into this community, I've wanted that for them, too.”
And as far as the future of BULLI, Amos is ready to see where the new director takes it and how it evolves. She won’t be around for the next year — she may be on some of those Road Scholar trips — out of respect for whoever takes over, but once that year is up, she’ll be right back with the program she helped build. But this time, she’ll be on the other side, learning alongside the members in the program she helped build.
“I can hang it up at the end of 25 years,” Amos said. “I have every confidence that these folks will be able to carry it forward. I think wonderful things will come of it. But if it died tomorrow, it has already done good in this community and that's what I'm proud of.”