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Marilynn Szecholda receives the 2023 OLLI at UAH Volunteer of the Year Award from Irene Garoppo.

Photo courtesy of Michael Mercier/UAH


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Marilynn Szecholda, recipient of the OLLI at UAH Volunteer of the Year Award in 2023.

Michael Mercier | UAH

If you have enjoyed the delicious food at the OLLI Early Bird Breakfasts or at the Friday bonuses or at the Souper Bowl, you can thank Marilynn Szecholda, our current member spotlight.  As chair of the social committee, she organizes the breakfasts and Souper Bowl and helps to supply the array of food for Friday bonuses. Her life has been a model of serving others.

Marilynn grew up in a suburb of Chicago. It was not your typical urban environment. “We had a lot of empty lots around our house and a swamp across the street,” recalled Marilynn. “It was a great place to catch tadpoles.” After Marilynn graduated from high school, where she was editor of the school paper, she started at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois.  She began her career of service there with its work program where students worked 15 hours a week doing campus jobs. “I had the unglamorous job of janitress in the girls’ dorm. We weren’t allowed to have cars, so we spent all our time on campus. Great friendships were formed by the campus captives.”

After two years, Marilynn transferred to Illinois State University, where she discovered she could get a teaching degree in special education. Since childhood, she had been interested in helping people with disabilities. After graduation, she began teaching in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. “My self-contained class had students ages 9-12,” said Marilynn. “As the need grew for a class for older students, my principal set up a room with kitchen facilities, a workbench and a sewing machine. The aim was to teach life skills, as well as the three R’s.”

Marilynn is such a joy to work with. Her commitment to OLLI and her desire to provide for her fellow members is a blessing to this organization.

Clay Williams
OLLI Program Manager 

Marilynn eventually moved to Huntsville with her former husband Bob, who passed away in 2008. Marilynn continued to teach until the late 1980s, when she and her husband opened the Little Professor Bookstore. “We ran the store for about eight years in south Huntsville,” said Marilynn. “What fun to be surrounded by books every day!”

Marilynn returned to teaching and retired in 2000 with over 25 years as a special education teacher. But she didn’t give up her passion. She spent two years at a school for dyslexic children and continues to this day teaching art at 8th Street Community, a group home for special-needs adults.

Marilynn became involved in OLLI before it was OLLI: “I actually started art classes at the forerunner to OLLI, the Academy [for Lifetime Learning]. I took watercolor painting from Chuck Long and oil painting from Gail Sleeper. I’ve been taking classes at OLLI for a long time.”

 Over the years, Marilynn has served as a board member, facilitator and of course, chair of the social committee. In that role, she has served us all with her breakfasts and event planning such as the Souper Bowl and the popular Holiday Party.

“What I have enjoyed about OLLI,” said Marilynn, “is meeting open-minded people, participating in memorable classes, learning new things, and the travel. I have taken three OLLI trips: two trips to the Western national parks and a boat trip on the Danube to visit the Christmas markets. These were memorable experiences.  OLLI is just a comfortable space for me.”

 And Marilynn knows a thing or two about comfortable spaces. OLLI Program Manager Clay Williams says “Marilynn is such a joy to work with. Her commitment to OLLI and her desire to provide for her fellow members is a blessing to this organization.” It is for this reason she was named the 2023 OLLI Volunteer of the Year. Congratulations Marilynn! (The original version of this article appeared in the April 2023 issue of the OLLI Insider and was written by Glen Adams.)


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