Place Matters

Reflect on a place that lives large in the mind. It might be a local coffee house, a quiet beach or a childhood tree house. Chances are, each memory is richly infused with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings, as well as the importance that place holds in one’s life. What is the reason for such strong attachments to places? A strong sense of place has always been central to making sense of the world.

Then there is our place, Sonoma County, located in the heart of wine country with a spectacular coastline, vineyard-draped hills, and striking redwood groves. What gives Sonoma County its sense of place? How have its unique location, history and residents defined it, and how has Sonoma County defined the people that live there?

There are now more than 100 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLIs) around the country, though SSU was among the first. Each OLLI takes on the flavor or ethos of the community in which it lives. That community is framed both by the host university, and by the larger local or regional environment. This year, OLLI at SSU is excited to present the “Place Project.” This multidisciplinary effort features several elements spanning the spring and summer of 2014.

OLLI Off Campus—June 2014

A series of explorations into the community will immerse students in the natural and cultural history of Sonoma County. Each thread will have three destinations where scholars, curators and researchers will welcome memberswith a lecture and a tour. (Sites subject to change and availability).

  • Science—Laguna de Santa Rosa, Pepperwood Preserve, Osborn Preserve
  • Art—Di Rosa, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma County Museum
  • History—Historical societies, state parks, architectural monuments

Taste Matters—July 2014, Tuesdays, New Student Center, Sonoma Valley Room,
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.

How does one talk about place without reference to the vast agricultural and viticultural roots of Sonoma County? Speakers from the worlds of food and wine, including producers, purveyors, chefs and culinary historians regale members with gastronomic tales of Sonoma County. Join OLLI on the SSU campus for this new sensory series.

OLLI Off Campus and Taste Matters are generously supported by Connie Codding.

Place Matters—July 29 2014, New Student Center, Ballroom B and C, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
(includes lunch)

The “Place Project” will culminate with Place Matters on July 29, 2014, and will bring together students from all three OLLI campuses to document, discuss and create a “sense of place” in Sonoma County. Presented at the new Student Center (Ballrooms B and C), the event will include three panels comprised of OLLI SSU students from all three campuses (main campus, Oakmont and Healdsburg), and chaired by faculty from three different SSU departments: Margie Purser, Anthropology; Ray Johnson, Wine Business; and Steve Estes, History. Each panel will explore a different aspect of place:

  • Place as Identity
  • Place as Memory and Legacy
  • Place as Community

Regional historian Gaye LeBaron will provide opening remarks, setting the scene for the discussions that follow. Creative expressions of place will include a juried art exhibition of work by OLLI students representing the complexity of place in Sonoma County, and a published anthology showcasing place-based writings from OLLI students. The selected artwork will be on view in The Hub, and local historical societies and museums will open their collections to OLLI students as part of the project. Finally, a concert by SSU students will root attendees in the performance of place.

Place Matters is generously supported by a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg, in his work The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, argues that "third places"—where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation —are the heart of a community's social vitality and the grassroots of democracy. How do these “third places” figure into Sonoma County, and how do they help to construct the social fabric of one’s life? The new Student Center, with its “living room” and various eating spots, represents a “third place” for the SSU community. OLLI is pleased to present the explorations of place in this new space, and hopes faculty and staff will join in celebrating this place called home.

Carin Jacobs, Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, SSU

For more information on the Place Project, contact Carin Jacobs at: