Growing up in rural southeast Alabama in the 1930s and '40s, I knew only one definition of "senior" - a member of a high school graduating class. It was after marriage to an Air Force fellow whose home was in Washington state that I became aware that seniors are mature citizens who have their own club membership in the form of a senior center!
This awakening came about as a result of visiting my old home place, and accompanying my mother to her senior center once a week for the two weeks we were there.
A van picked up passengers throughout the county and delivered them to the center in Troy. It was usually full, and passengers were expected to make small monetary donations for the ride, as well as for their lunches.
My mother complained that some of them "never put anything in" for either, but assured us that she always put in her 50 cents! They played dominoes or Rook before lunch, had a half-hour group singing session, ate, and then it was time to go home. The weekly trip was often the highlight of her week.
Ken and I made our home in Bellingham, and when our children had flown the nest we retired to Ferndale. Remembering our senior center experiences with my mother, Ken wanted to try out the one here.
We found that time and location presented a much different situation. The Ferndale Senior Center offered many activities to pick from, a daily lunch, and it was open all day. It was true that members were expected to "put in" considerably more money for lunch, and there was a fee for joining, but any way you looked at it, membership was a bargain.
Ken loved to play beanbag baseball, eat lunch, and visit with people. I enjoyed the book club, and volunteered with activities occasionally. There was something of interest for everyone. Then Ken became seriously ill. I was involved in his care until his death, and so for several years did not go to the center.
Now I am back, back into writing short biographies for the newsletter, back into taking part in some of the activities, and seeing the center's purpose and contribution magnified. I am looking at my peers and realizing that in serving in the form of volunteering, we are in fact fulfilling our own needs, for the very act of volunteering makes us feel useful, and that we are an integral part of the cycle of life, giving us reason for being here still.
It is true that there are games, social events, bus trips, helpful information, workouts, and companionship. I see us, at a time in our lives when we need validation, being encompassed in a warm blanket of comfort and caring by those around us. The senior center is a place that will always take us in, feed us, make us feel welcome and useful, and at the end of the day assure us that we are a part of the puzzle that makes up humanity.
Our membership is a microcosm of society, from the ill and disabled to those still active and productive. We have a diverse leadership, actively looking for innovative ways to manage the challenges of running such an organization. From our manager to our president, from our grants writer and board officers to our membership, we feel fortunate to have such direction.
Today our center has its own small bus for trips, and a fully equipped strength training room. We also boast our very own website, built for us by five students from assistant professor Sheila Webb's journalism class at Western Washington University.
You can find us at ferndaleseniorcenter.org. We are "with it" seniors, who have a place to go to find interests that fit our lives and lifestyles. We are the Jet Oldsters of the Ferndale Senior Center.
ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peggy Stone is a Ferndale resident and board member of Ferndale Senior Center.