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Renée Melchiorre reflects on the past, respects the present

With Judy LaMée

Raised by her Sicilian grandmother, Renée Melchiorre is a fascinating blend of reverence for those influential people who helped shape the woman she has become and respect for her OLLI peers and others working to make a difference today. A baby boomer of postwar America, Renée grew up on the south side of Chicago, a child of divorced parents. She says her grandmother “created awareness in me as a young girl of the importance of defining what mattered in the past and understanding what has shaped the world we live in today. It’s not coincidental that my research and writing in graduate school focused on those postwar years in the American experience.”


She grew up with her grandmother’s stories of being poor as a young girl in Sicily, of the hard times she experienced as an immigrant in America, then as a widow with eight children during the Great Depression and of life on the home front during World War II when her only surviving sons were fighting the war in the Pacific.


Renée shares generously: “For me, teaching in the College for Seniors (CFS) at OLLI at UNC Asheville, working on committees with the terrific people who help administer our programs, and meeting the interesting people who enroll in courses keeps me engaged. I especially love the collective idea behind lifelong learning here. We have so many terrific people who bring such a great wealth of knowledge and experience to OLLI, many of whom already volunteer their time to teach. But at this stage of life, we’re all teachers as well as learners, so I’d encourage other members to take the leap, participate by teaching and sharing what they know. It’s what makes us work...and it's very rewarding.”
Renée earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan in Communications while simultaneously pursuing a career in sales and marketing at Ford Motor Company.

After a twenty-year career with Ford, she entered graduate school at the University of Kansas, earning an M.A. in U.S. history for an award-winning thesis on "The Culture of Paternalism and the Ford Motor Company: the UAW, Women and Wartime Priorities." She taught classes at the University of Kansas on early twentieth century U.S. history and enjoyed working with students on how to develop conceptual tools for the study of history.


She teaches history classes to packed classrooms at OLLI, having recently completed one on post-World War II society in America, 1945-1960. She recently signed up as a mentor in a pilot program with UNC Asheville undergraduates.


Married to John Sweets, Professor Emeritus of history at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Renée says John’s work has greatly enriched her own learning in that his research and publications focus on Occupied France during World War II. The two traveled widely in France and Italy. They lived in France in the mid-1990s when John was a visiting professor at the University of Franche-Comte in Besancon. They even exchanged residences with a French family.


Renée weaves her life experiences and research methodology into content-rich CFS courses. She delivers with conviction and passion. Class participants respond with enthusiasm and respect.

Contact Information

Reuter Center CPO #5000
One University Heights
Asheville, NC 28804-8511
Office: 828.251.6140
Email:  olli@unca.edu