TO THE Sunshine Coast's University of the Third Age members, Jim Hales is a living "treasure".
In 2002, Jim retired to the Sunshine Coast after working at the University of Queensland as Department of Agriculture Field Research Services manager and part-time Animal Science lecturer.
After settling into his Buderim home, Jim began looking for an organisation to join to meet new people and become part of the community.
He was invited along to a few classes in the University of the Third Age program at the Sippy Downs campus where he quickly fitted in as a member.
The University of the Third Age, or U3A as it's often called, offers an opportunity for "third agers" to keep physically and mentally fit alongside similar-minded peers.
With more than 160 classes ranging from Latin to line dancing, U3A is for retirees of all ages who wish to broaden their horizons and "learn for the joy of learning".
Jim said U3A gave him "a new interest and a chance to make new friends and study new things that I never had the time to do when I was working".
"As retirees, we need to maintain and build our social contacts so we do not become socially isolated," he said.
"We need to keep our minds alert and our body active.
"U3A programs offer opportunities to satisfy all of these objectives."
After a short time as a member, Jim was invited to become part of the volunteer committee and took on the roles of equipment and venues officer, before stepping up to course co-ordinator.
Jim later became president and was involved in developing a stronger financial foundation for the U3A Sunshine Coast in a "rather turbulent time" where extra fees were introduced to cover the cost of renting venues.
"In that time, we saw the growth of the U3A Sunshine Coast from 1600 members to over 2000 members, and as more seniors retire and move to the Coast, it's expected to keep growing," he said.
After seven years on the committee, Jim held a meeting to pursue a Queensland U3A network and representative system like Victoria and New South Wales.
"Being president of the Sunshine Coast, I led the initiative and was responsible for contacting the various U3As and putting across the proposition to form the network," Jim said.
"In the meeting, we had 13 U3A chapters agree to set up the network, and we now have 26."
The Queensland network was incorporated on August 6, 2009.
The network helps U3A groups across Queensland to maintain contact with each other, provide support, foster new groups and ideas, share and reach common goals and improve the status of the U3A within the wider community.
Jim became president of U3A Queensland and, with the help of fellow U3A champion Dr Rick Swindell, established a strong foundation and representative system.
Jim was also involved with helping to establish U3A's online network.
U3A online is now a worldwide network founded by Dr Swindell, giving members the opportunity to access more than 35 online courses from anywhere around the world.
While he is the current Queensland U3A network president, Jim said he would be handing over the position at this month's annual general meeting, and "taking a back seat" to some extent.
"Above all, being a member of U3A has kept me challenged mentally and given me the opportunity to feel useful in the community," Jim said.
"As a result of my volunteering for a committee position, I have made dozens of new friends and social contacts, not just here on the Sunshine Coast but all over Queensland.
"If I was to make one recommendation to all retirees, it is this: join U3A today, enrol for a course of your special interest, volunteer to help, make new friends and live."
YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD TO DO SOMETHING NEW
The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a world-wide educational movement for mature-age people - the "Third Age" referring to the retirement stage in life.
Operating days - Monday to Friday
All ages welcome.
Classes are held in halls, schools, private homes and other available venues by unpaid tutors from within the membership.
U3A Open Day is held each January: displays of most of the classes, meet tutors, and enrol in classes.
For more information, contact your local office: Sunshine Coast office: 5430 1123; Noosa: 5440 5500