The Centralia Senior Center recently passed the 20th anniversary of its ground-breaking.
The first meal was served at the then new Centralia Senior Center, at the corner of Allen and Bruton streets, May 1, 1987.
At least 250 people attended the formal dedication on Sunday, May 17, 1987. At the time, Lorene Houser, a trustee with the Centralia Area Senior Citizens Association, said they were probably the first group to fund their own building. At the time, she estimated the group raised between $80,000 and $100,000 to build the facility.
Bob Hartel, Mildred Campbell and Mildred (Knowles) McDonald were three of the many people who helped raise that money. They recently took a few moments to share their memories of that time with the Fireside Guard.
Knowles was reached at her home in Washington state.
She said area senior citizens were inspired in part by the senior center that had opened in Columbia. “We heard people in Columbia say that as people got older there were fewer things they could do, and the one in Columbia was a nice place to get together, have lunch and do things,” said Knowles. “And we thought we could do that for ourselves.”
At the time local senior citizens met for weekly lunches in the basement of the Centralia First Christian Church.
Knowles said she, her husband Burton, Al Burkhardt, Bob and Kay Hartel, walked the streets of Centralia looking for a building. They found one not far from where they were having their weekly lunches.
There was an old nursing home at the corner of Allen and Bruton. In March 1986 the association voted to by the property from Boone County Federal Savings and Loan for $9,000. By May 1986 the property was paid for.
During the summer, while the old building was being demolished, the senior citizens were busy with fund-raisers.
“We did everything to try and raise money,” said Hartel.
One of Hartell’s contributions was driving his pickup truck to south Missouri and filling the bed with five-pound sacks of cracked pecans, which he, Woody Bishop and others would sell. “One year we raised $1,600 for the senior center,” recalled Hartell with pride.
“We had dances and chili suppers in city hall a lot of weekends,” said Knowles, who was the first president of the association’s board of trustees as well as a former Centralia mayor. “We also just walked the town asking for donations. It was fun”
The Centralia Chamber of Commerce also held an outdoor dance that raised around $400.
Door to door appeals and pecans were not the only things they did. “We found a single-axle camper trailer and turned it into the ‘Chuck Wagon,’” said Hartel, also a former trustees president. “Kathy Perkey was on the board and her husband Richard owned Perkey Electric. He wired it up for free and we took it to auctions, field trials, anywhere people wanted food sold.”
One lady donated a quilt that was raffled off for over $200. Senior citizen women brought in a quilting frame, said Hartell. “They made a lot of quilts and sold them to make money.” According to a March 25, 1987 Guard article, the quilts sold for approximately $150 each.
“We had a lot of good volunteers back then,” said Hartel. “After the center was built, Barney Wainscott would go down there every morning and mop that place. It was beautiful when he was done.”
“It was fun getting out and visiting people and raising donations,” said Campbell. “Dances and dinners, that was how we raised money and later kept the expenses paid.”
“I remember going door to door in my neighborhood” said Evelyn Robertson, a member of the board of trustees who still volunteers when she can. “We were just trying to get it started.”
• There was also an organized fund drive, chaired by Burkhardt and Larry Clark. Wainscott and Knowles were team captains for about 40 senior citizens who contacted residents in their assigned parts of Centralia. That drive raised around $32,000.
When asked what drove everyone to put in the hours and wear out the shoe leather, Knowles said: “It made life a little more fun. We went out and got our building instead of sitting at home. When you get older you have to make fun for yourself and not sit at home and do nothing.”
These days the Centralia Senior Center still offers lunch five days a week and card games on Wednesday afternoons. Bingo fans gather there to play on Thursday afternoons at 1:30.
The center sponsors a morning senior exercise program Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m.
The third Thursday of every month they host a visiting nurse who gives blood pressure and blood sugar checks to anybody who is interested, said Dave Eppinger, trustees president.
Every Thursday evening the center hosts carry-in supper at 6:30 p.m. Every fourth Friday the center holds a birthday lunch to honor those who have a birthday table that month. Those who turn 90 are awarded the title king or queen for the day, complete with a crown.
Two things about the center have not changed. It still needs volunteers. “We are still looking for volunteers,” said Eppinger, “Especially in the kitchen.” Another, is the open door policy, said Robertson, “everyone is welcome.”
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