Growing popularity of senior centers reflects a desire to stay connected

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December 3, 2007
— Sharp, clear clicking sounds echoed from the room where cloggers practiced new dance steps.

It was still in the ceramic and art rooms where others painted quietly.

Upstairs, sounds of musical instruments could be heard as members of the Blue Velvet Band rehearsed for their Friday morning performances.

Nearby, more than a dozen men took turns shooting pool.

Welcome to Wednesday morning at the Janesville Senior Center, where a hub of more than 40 activities is offered to those 50 and older weekdays year around.

Janesville’s senior center is one of 15,000 senior centers that serve more than 10 million people nationwide. That’s up from 218 senior centers in 1961.

Annual attendance has grown steadily at the local senior center the past six years—from 19,974 in 2001 to 51,990 last year.

“There’s a lot going on, and there’s something here for everybody,’’ said Sonja Spoden, who joined the Janesville center in 2000.

“People want to be with others who have similar interests,” said Pat Tobin, recreation manager.

Bob Piraro, 80, travels from Lake Geneva twice a week to shoot pool at the Janesville Senior Center.

“I’m happy to be with everybody here. They’re caring and accepting,’’ he said.

Tobin said that echoes another draw: Coming to a senior center makes the aging less lonely.

“A lot of people’s children move away,” she said. “So others they meet at the senior center become extended family for them.”

“They no longer feel alone and make tons of friends,” said Janet McLean, supervisor.

Spoden, a 68-year-old Janesville woman, said, “It’s important to get out of the house, meet other people and make new friends.”

Meryle Mueske sought fellowship when he signed up at the center.

“It’s some place to go with lots of activities,’’ said the retired Janesville auto worker.

Some of those opportunities give seniors the chance to do something they always had a desire to do but never did, McLean said.

“Seniors today are more health conscious and want to be active. It’s the activities we have,” McLean said of the popularity of the center she leads.

“The key to being young is staying active. It’s not calendar years, but how people feel about themselves within. When they find interesting things to do, they come alive and forget their aches and pains,” she added.

“That’s why they get up in the morning,” Tobin said.

Evelyn Thompson has been active with the Janesville Senior Center for more than 20 years. The 87-year-old Janesville woman said she joined because she needed something to do.

Thompson serves on the center’s board of directors, teaches ceramics, took a writing class and is at the center at least twice a week.

“It gets me out of the house and keeps my mind active,’’ she said.

In addition to the social aspect senior centers offer, they provide learning opportunities, Tobin said.

“That’s a big part of what seniors look for,” she said.

Ray Benton, 83, spends five days a week at the center that he refers to as a bundle of activities.

The Janesville widower said he could sit home and mope. Instead he chooses to come to the center to be around others.

“Although the socialization is important, the education here is equally as good,” Benton said.

“It’s just like a second home,” Benton said.

“It’s also a place of their own where they take ownership and donate a lot of time and talent, which increases their enjoyment,” McLean said.

Senior centers meet the needs of their members by listening to their suggestions, McLean said.

“They tell us what they like and what they don’t like,’’ she said.

For example, the Janesville Senior Center used to have three needle arts class. Now there is only one. It used to offer one quilting class. Now it has two.

“Things change, and we have to change with it,” Tobin said.


The first senior center opened 59 years ago in New York City under city sponsorship.

Called the William Hodson Community Center, it marked the beginning of the senior center movement.

By the late 1940s, there were senior centers in San Francisco and Philadelphia, and by 1961, about 218 senior centers had opened nationwide.

Today there are 15,000 senior centers in the United States. Government and local nonprofit organizations support many, while others receive funds from organizations such as United Way and Catholic Charities. Since 1965, the Older Americans Act has provided some funding support to more than 6,000 senior centers through service contracts for program activities.—National Council On Aging


It is a place where older adults come together for services and activities that reflect their experience and skills, respond to their diverse needs and interests, enhance their dignity, support their independence, and encourage their involvement in and with the center and the community.—National Council on Aging, the leading organization for people and organizations who serve older adults


(In Rock and

Walworth counties)

Janesville Senior Center

69 S. Water St.


8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

(608) 755-3040


Grinnell Senior Center

631 Bluff St.


8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays

(608) 364-2875


The Gathering Place

715 Campus Lane


(608) 868-3500

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; occasional special events held evening and weekends


Evansville Area


320 Fair St.


(608) 882-0407

8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays


Seniors in the Park

Community Building, Starin Park

504 W. Starin Road


(262) 473-0535

9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday



Darien Public Library Senior Center Room

47 Park St.


(262) 882-5495

11:30 a.m. to noon lunch, bring a dish to pass; 1 p.m. meeting, the third Thursday of the month.

East Troy Seniors

The Heritage

3223 North St.

East Troy

(262) 642-5574

Noon, first and third Monday of the month

Elkhorn Senior Citizens

Matheson Memorial Library

Community Room

101 N. Wisconsin


(262) 723-4132

11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday; potluck the fourth Thursday of the month; 9:15 for cards Wednesdays at Culver’s.

Fairfield Grange

Fairfield Grange Hall

Highway 14


(262) 473-3218

7:30 p.m. second Monday of the month.

Gateway Seniors

Bloomfield Town Hall

Highway H

Pell Lake

(262) 279-6039

Noon, second and fourth Monday of the month with a 1 p.m. meeting

Lake Ivanhoe Seniors


(262) 248-3978

4 p.m. the third Thursday of the month

Lake Seniors

Lake Geneva City Hall

812 Wrigley Drive

Lake Geneva

Second floor

(262) 728-6426

11 a.m. to 3 p.m., first and third Monday of the month

Senior Travel Club

of Walworth County

Matheson Memorial Library

Community Room

101 N. Wisconsin


10 a.m., first Friday of the month

Seniors 60

Cold Springs Inn

Highway N


(262) 473-2996 or (920) 563-4673)

1 p.m. lunch, socializing or dessert, second Thursday and fourth Saturday of the month

Senior Group

of Walworth County

Locations in Elkhorn and Lake Geneva

(262) 728-2277 or (262) 763-3115


9:30 to 11 a.m., Monday; 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday; 10 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday; 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., Friday.


With the growing popularity of senior centers, residents of communities might wonder how their facilities, programs and staff will be funded in the future.

The Janesville Senior Center is operated by the City of Janesville Department of Leisure Services recreation division.

“What funds the senior center is tax based,” said Bonnie Davis, director of recreation for the city.

The Janesville Senior Center received $202,099 for 2007 and will receive $205,781 in 2008, Davis said.

Other funding sources include donations, money raised by the Senior Center Board, user fees and building rentals, Davis said.

Quick Fact

There are 15,000 senior centers in the United States that serve nearly 10 million older adults annually.

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