A Brief History
Learning Unlimited (Oxford), founded in 1982, owes its existence to Eva Latham (1909-1990), a brilliant and inspirational leader through whose vision and will this organization came into being. She believed that “using the mind preserves it” and that older people need educational stimulation if they are to stay active in the community. That belief is still here today. In 2022, Learning Unlimited (Oxford) became a program of South Gate Centre, part of whose mission is to promote wellness to fill one’s mind, body and soul.
HOW LEARNING UNLIMITED BEGAN
Eva Latham 1909 - 1990 - Her Story
Eva was born and raised in Toronto and her early years were quite involved with the Presbyterian Church, CGIT and the YWCA.
At age 33 she became the Executive Director of YWCA in Ottawa, then to Toronto, Sarnia and Regina. While in Regina she became involved with the government of Tommy Douglas and the Women’s Movement in Alberta. She was part of a delegation of women sent to Europe to study this movement in England and Germany. When she came back to Regina, she had a half hour daily radio talk show about women’s issues.
She returned to Ottawa and was followed by a year as Secretary of the YWCA of Great Britain in Plymouth, England. Back in Canada she became the Director of Women’s Activities for the NDP and served as Executive Director of the YWCA in Peterborough.
At age 60 she became the Executive Director of the YWCA for Woodstock. She retired in 1975 and felt challenged by activities for seniors. With the help of some close friends: Ruth Gates, Head of Adult Studies at Fanshawe College, Marion Dyer, Marion Farmer, Ruth MacKenzie and Irene Crawford she decided to start a program to encourage education and intellectual opportunities for seniors in this area.
She decided started with a three-phase plan to get an organization called “Learning Unlimited” together. She tried to get financial aid from local organizations but when that did not work, she obtained a New Horizons Grant from the Government.
A one-day mini-conference was held at Fanshawe College in Woodstock to find out what seniors wanted and were interested in.
It was very successful. Eighty seniors attended this conference and 60 joined Learning Unlimited for a $5.00 fee. They found seniors wanted to listen to speakers that made them think and topics that dealt with their needs.
The college was too small so she rented the auditorium and library at Woodingford Lodge and had the ﬁrst 8 week session the Fall of l982. There were three speakers each Wednesday for eight weeks, lunch $2.50. There was one speaker in the morning and two in afternoon, members picked which speaker they wanted to hear. This session was so successful they planned another for the Spring of 1983.
A four day conference was held at Port Elgin on Lake Huron with Dr. Bruce Halliday, MP Oxford opening the conference.
Theme was: Age is Opportunity
Motto was: Using the mind preserves it
Logo: Learning Unlimited (Oxford)
Goal: To offer a variety of educational courses to the seniors in our community from subjects of
interest (computers) to practical studies (health).
A Constitution and By-laws were written to formalize the organisation.
First president was Dr. Dickinson 1984 (was a retired United Church minister).
1989 was a turning point, LU had so many members that it moved to the Royal Canadian Legion and had two speakers each day per session. Day trips were cancelled since moved to Unifor Hall.
In 1990 Eva became ill, was hospitalized and had one leg amputated. Her friends said Eva simply gave up her zest for life and passed away at 81. She was buried in Toronto.
COMMENTS from friends who knew her well:
Marion Dyer: "Eva did not demand perfection but expected it."
Irene Crawford: "Eva could organize the devil into heaven."
Marion Farmer: "If you told Eva you did not know how to do something her response was ‘then you had better learn.”
Seniors in this area have benefitted greatly from Eva’s desire to improve their lives. She opened doors for us and we should be grateful to her.
Story by Carol Hillsdon and Dianne Older