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What follows is an adaptation of original articles written by Mike Boler, student at Lifetime Learning Center  (LLC) 2014, and Dorie O. Warbington, co-founder of LLC, with later revisions and updates by Steve Camp and Michael Shurgot.


The Lifetime Learning Center (LLC) of Seattle was created in 1976 when two Seattle high school teachers, Sister Rosemary Powers and Doris Olson Warbington, decided it would be fun to work with adults. The teachers’ ecumenical project was sponsored by Sacred Heart Church and Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Bob Gardner, a social worker with the Archdiocese of Seattle, joined the women in creating LLC, modeled after the LaFarge Lifetime Institute in Milwaukee, WI. 

The Archdiocese and Gethsemane Lutheran backed the new venture financially, and Sacred Heart Church provided a home for the center in the old Sacred Heart School at John and Harrison Streets, a block west of the Seattle Center. The first quarter of classes at LLC was very successful, with extraordinarily dedicated volunteer instructors offering 26 classes, and 140 adult students enrolled. Classes were held 3 days a week, and students were charged a $10 registration fee, for as many classes as they wished to take. Early years included travel classes to Europe and other spots around the world, and an association with the Elder Hostel program. 

LLC continued to grow and thrive, both as a magnet for adult learning, and as a socially connected community. LLC began publishing a school paper, “Second Wind”, as well as an annual volume of poetry and prose, Life Lines, which is still published today.  In 1981, LLC became a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and soon was attracting 300+ students regularly filling 25-30 classes per quarter. 

All LLC instructors generously volunteer their time.  From the work of Bob Gardner, the Founding Director who served from September 1976 through 1977, to the current director Marilyn Spotswood, the center has benefitted from talented and dedicated leaders who have vigorously pursued the goal of providing excellent and challenging educational opportunities for older adults.  

In 1999, LLC was blessed with a significant bequest of nearly $200,000 from the estate of Carol Clark Tatkon, to honor her mother, Florence Clark, a dedicated LLC student since its founding years. These funds provided LLC with a firm financial footing which enabled further growth and security during several risky changes in location. 

Several mandated moves involved complex and often frustrating relationships with the Seattle Public Schools (SPS). In January 2001 LLC was forced to vacate its original, downtown location and move to the Sand Point Educational Center near Magnuson Park where the center shared classroom and office space with North Seattle Community College.  Roger Neale, LLC’s Director from 2001 to 2016, worked to resolve conflicts with the college and establish a large and diverse educational program.


When SPS reopened an elementary school on the Sand Point site, Roger successfully negotiated an agreement with SPS to re-locate LLC into what was then known as John Marshall Junior High near Green Lake.  This move, frustrating to everyone involved, nonetheless created an amazing opportunity for an energetic effort to repair, clean, and paint rooms. The few years at John Marshall were quite successful with LLC attracting several new instructors, expanding its curriculum, and drawing many students from the Green Lake and North Seattle neighborhoods.  SPS reclaimed the John Marshall School in spring 2013, and LLC began searching again for a new location with sufficient classroom space.  It was then that LLC moved into its current location at Lake City Presbyterian Church in NE Seattle.  


The LLC executive directors have successfully shepherded the center through several financial and organizational difficulties during the past forty-seven years.  The most recent challenge to LLC’s traditional structure occurred during the COVID pandemic. Ellis Waller-Walker (2016-2020) moved the organization into the Zoom universe and thereby salvaged the entire program.  The center continues to offer classes on zoom as it expands its in person offerings.  The current director, Marilyn Spotswood, has re-vitalized the board, enticed new instructors, and solidified the organization’s financial situation.


From the 140 who signed up initially in 1976, enrollment has grown consistently and exponentially.  Today LLC enrolls close to 400 students for each 8-week term.  Many students come back year after year, not just to take classes, but to renew and build friendships.  The daily “coffee klatch” continues to this day, with many students gathering between classes for coffee and conversation.  The early tradition of publishing a volume of poetry and prose written by students continues with the annual publication of Life Lines.  During fall, winter and spring quarters there are lunch time lectures that are open to the public and free of charge.           


The Lifetime Learning Center thrives because of its volunteers:  instructors offer their  expertise merely for the joy of teaching and building a learning community, and many volunteers contribute their time and efforts.  LLC is truly a marvelous organization of many helping hands.

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