(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series focusing on the senior citizens of Oakdale and the programs and services available to them through the local senior center. This week, we present an overview of the center and its regular Monday offerings.)
For some, the Gladys L. Lemmons Senior Community Center is just another building tucked neatly into a corner of Oakdale. A passing thought on their way out of town. But for the seniors that spend their afternoons playing pool, the ladies that knit legendary scarves, and the community that packs themselves in three times a week to play bingo, it is irrevocably so much more.
“The Senior Center has been a major part of our lives,” Stan MacArthur, a regular at the center, said for not only himself but the friends that he has there.
A quick look at their activity guide tells anyone that the senior center is packed with activity: games like bingo, bridge, chess, and cards to exercises like yoga, Zumba, hula, and tap dancing. Classes fill each of the rooms of the center every day with crafting, book clubs, singing seniors, art, and support groups. Not only are there weekly offerings, but the Senior Center holds concerts, trips, and resources like free health screenings and a Green Bag Program. There is something for everyone.
About 20 years ago, the Senior Center opened up for the community to come in and spend their days. Billie Benedix, a regular member of the Center for 19 years, reminisced about the growth of the community pillar.
“Linda Royalty had started an activities committee and I volunteered with the monthly dinners,” she explained. “The monthly dinners get people out in a different setting and we get to meet people we would sometimes see for just a minute.”
“It’s a good mixer,” fellow senior Joan Taylor added.
The dinners provide a great time for seniors that may just come for one class a week to spend some time together. Some members come in just for their exercise a few times a week, some may come just for a ukulele class or for painting. There’s no guarantee you’ll see exactly the same crowd, as the groups tend to fluctuate, add new members, or break off as needed. Some seniors have been in classes 17 years, and some are just starting their first meetings.
“Some people come every day of the week because lunch is served and that’s their main meal of the day. Others come for various activities,” Benedix continued, pointing out all the classes available on the weekly schedule.
One thing is certain: an entire community stands behind this center. If it wasn’t already obvious years ago – when a lack of funding threatened closure of the Senior Center and the public rallied together to prevent the crisis from coming to fruition – then the love that the seniors genuinely have for this center is evidence enough of the need it is filling.
“(Seniors) converged on City Hall when there were thoughts of closing the center,” Benedix relayed. “There was standing room only. There’s so much going on here and it’s not only for us old people, but for their families. They know that their mothers, their grandmothers, whoever it might be – has a safe place to go. Meet new people. Have a lunch. It’s a good place to be.”
“It’s a home away from home,” Taylor added. “A gathering place.”
Benedix and Taylor are just two of the ladies that rotate shifts working at the front desk. They see all types of people come in and out, sometimes for pastries in the mornings, clubs and lunch in the afternoon, then exercise or bingo later on.
A regular Monday for the center starts off with yoga and a painting class.
The painting class is filled with fellowship and humble talent. A mere glance could tell anyone that though some of its attendees just started working with paint, they’ve learned quite a bit. Most accredited their skills to the instructor that helps on Thursdays, but it seems that just enough time spent with a canvas and a brush or some pencil to paper makes a lot of difference.
Monday will then take its seniors into some late morning exercise with the Young at Heart class, a lunch at noon, and then some afternoon bingo. These days prove to be the busiest as the exercise classes, lunches, and bingo are some of the most well-attended activities the center has to offer.
Previously the center offered a “Tell Your Story” class. For now, it is taking a break, but Benedix and Taylor assured it would start up again soon.
“You wanted to write a book and this lady would help you,” Taylor, a previous member of the class, shared. “We actually started to learn how to write a story, how to put it together, and how to start it.”
One of the purposes was for seniors to share what had happened in their lives. Some took about five or six years at a time to write about, going through their childhood, teenage years, life as a young adult, all to the present. A lot of the seniors wanted to write so that they could have the chance to pass it on to their families.
The class had encouraged Taylor to share her story – she was able to write a book, get it put together in print with the help of Modesto Junior College, and gave it to her son for his 40th birthday.
“This place...I love this place, I do,” she finished with a sweet smile.
For more information on the Senior Center, call 209-845-3566. A Senior Information Day will be held at the Bianchi Community Center on Friday, June 7 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with vendors, raffles, health screenings, and lunch all for free and sponsored by the City of Oakdale and Oak Valley Hospital District.
This senior series will continue next week with a look into what Tuesday and Wednesday holds for the Senior Center, as well as what makes their scarves so legendary.