Senior citizens need their home base
By Kathryn LeBrasseur, Alexandria, MN
I sat at the Golden K’s Pancake Breakfast on Friday and looked around at the wonder facilities of the Alexandria Senior Center. Many thoughts ran through my mind! Memories of the wonderful people I had the privilege to work with to build this facility. I recall all the “firsts” involved and praised throughout the nation and the state. One of the very first owned any place by the senior citizens and not a government building that allowed them to meet there. The need it was created to fill still exists and yet we talk about selling it?
A little history is needed here.
First, Douglas County’s population was 25 percent over 65 back then (in the 1980s). That’s not new. The business market just hadn’t discovered us. So the seniors created their own programs. The center was built to be a home base for senior programming. It was planned and paid for in that way. All 11 clubs in Douglas County conducted fund raisers to add to the $43,000 that the county contributed from revenue sharing funds. Andrew Urness contributed $50,000 and Jon Haaven gifted us with the final telethon that allowed us to pay completely for our 37 percent of the building and let us put away $59,000 for expansion.
The City of Alexandria then stepped forward and contributed $10,000 out of recreation money to help pay for a director. Everything was done by volunteers in those days, from cleaning the place to raising the rest of the nickels and dimes by craft and bake sales, and soup lunches and “split the pot” bingo. The county maintained an office to enable the volunteers.
Of course, times change. Even wall telephones are gone. Our exercise facilities, woodworking shop, craft classes, bingo, dances, bridge and enough noon diners to take two shifts to seat died out. Our seniors are more sophisticated and younger and able to be involved in other places, and businesses became aware of us and catered to our needs. In the early 1980s, it was all about keeping the senior from being isolated and eating properly and busy. Now it is about being informed and knowing where to find the programs and what they do. The world has discovered us!
There are at least 15 programs in the area that are focused on senior health care issues. Programs that range from helping with Alzheimer’s families, to getting your funeral ready. Some big ones are thinking of coming in from groups like Health Partners. Elder Network and RSVP programs exist. They should be focused there. I like the emphasis on that the Echo Press expressed in an editorial, “The focus of the center needs changing”. We no longer can or should compete for exercise classes or woodworking classes etc. that are available. But so much program information and many small clinics are conducted and they should be presented at our home base. Currently they are housed everywhere they can get space for a program, but they are scattered and often places seniors feel uncomfortable going.
A personal note: You would be surprised how many of those over 65 then are still alive. They are heartsick about what is happening. They share this sorrow and disbelief when I see them. As you know or suspect, I am a strongly opinionated person and it didn’t seem fair to retire and be a thorn in the side to my successors. So, I dropped out and changed directions. However, I have a strong opinion right now again. This home base should be the target spot for all senior programming to reach out and the developers of those programs could combine some costs to cover operations and they could work together to indeed make Douglas County and Alexandria the models of life after 65 again. Perhaps the county and city could provide some leadership in that direction. We have worked together as non-profits, government and business/professional before. We could do it again and we have the best spot there is to do it!
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The writer served as the director of the Alexandria Senior Citizens Office from 1980 to 1995.