If you have ever thought that a room full of senior citizens would be quiet, serious, perhaps even depressing, let me introduce you to the Culpeper Senior Center.
When my friend, Millie Lederer, and I pushed open the door to the Center, we were greeted by cheerful chatter, laughter, and a lot of “hustle and bustle.” One large round table held a group of eight ladies, where one was relating a story about something her grandson had done, and the others were laughing and
nodding their heads as if to say, “Oh, yes, the same thing has happened to me.” At one table on the left (designated the card table), four seniors were playing Spades – “Not poker!” they told me, laughing. The three computers each had a senior checking something on the Internet or just playing Solitaire. That day, thee were about fifty people at the Center, all busily engaged in some activity. It is, truly, a “happenin’ place.”
The Culpeper Senior Center (CSC) is one of five senior centers under the auspices of Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services (RRCS) and is led by the energetic and seemingly inexhaustible director, Gladys Williams. Gladys is understandably proud of the accomplishments and the services offered by the CSC. Several years ago, when there was a waiting list of 58 seniors, Gladys, with the help of many individuals, businesses, and other organizations, raised over a million dollars to renovate and enlarge the facility so that it could accommodate a larger number of seniors. There are 75 members now, and “more applying every week,” says Gladys.
Each of those 75 seniors has a story, of course, but we had time to speak with just a few.
Ivin Edwards retired after 30 years with the USPS and then worked for 15 years in the Safeway bakery in Culpeper. “That’s where I met Miss Gladys,” he says. “She talked me into coming here when I left Safeway. I came, planning to stay just a couple of days, but I’ve been here ever since. She put me to work before I even got in the door!”
Ivin’s wife, Betty, also comes every day to the Center, and brings Esther Hart, for whom she is a caretaker. According to Ivin, Betty was reluctant at first to come to the Center with all those “old people.” But now Ivin says, “Since she’s been coming here with Miss Esther, you can’t keep her away!”
One of our biggest treats of the day was meeting 90-year-old Norma Jean Marsh. When told she was beautiful, she quipped, “That’s funny. I was never beautiful before.” Clad in a baseball cap and T-shirt, Miss Norma Jean looked like she belonged at a baseball game – and I’m sure she would have caught a foul ball, too.
At a large round table in the main room, we asked if anyone would like to come chat with us. In less than two minutes, there were about 30 people sitting and standing around the table. Lily Early, in her walker, said everyone had told her to come here, but she just thought it was “too much of an old fuddy-duddy thing.” Laughing, Gladys said, “That first day, we must have made her a fuddy-duddy, too, because she’s here all the time now.” Lily’s granddaughter drives her from her home in Bealeton to the Center three days a week. Catherine Johnson comes to the Center because “I just like being around everybody here. This is our home away from home.” Sue Wormsley agreed, adding “It means making friends, keeping busy, and not letting your mind slip away.”
The Center is a support group, in the truest meaning of that expression.. As Ivin said, “If one hurts, everybody hurts.” But the one word that was repeated by almost everyone was “family.” Ivin probably said it best: “I didn’t know most of the people here when I got here – now we’re all family.”
Activities for many interests and physical constraints are planned for almost every day. There are trivia games, exercise programs, and special programs to celebrate holidays. For Valentine’s Day, the members participated in an English High Tea, complete with tea pots and finger foods. Nurses come in some days to talk to anyone who needs medical advice and help. Walgreen’s sends staff every year to give flu shots and pneumonia vaccine. Cosmetologists come to the Center to give manicures and haircuts. And there is music! Gladys is in contact with several musical groups who enjoy coming to play concerts for the seniors. She is always looking for people who might like to contribute to any of these activities – or more. Incidentally, when asked what their favorite activity is, the answer from the group around the large table was loud and clear: “BINGO!”
Many of the CSC members volunteer for duties at the Center. Ivin takes his red truck every day to the central kitchen on Bradford Road to pick up lunch for everyone, and he often picks up donations. Barbara Transmore, who has been coming to the Center for three years, runs errands, and takes members to doctor’s appointments and to the bank. She also has taken CPR training to use in an emergency. Each member does what he or she can to help.
Gladys could use many more volunteers. There is always a need for drivers to take members to doctor’s appointments. “We need them so badly,” she said. Gladys would like to find a volunteer to mow the grass in front of the Center and a small plot cross the street, where they have picnic tables. And she would love to talk to someone about building an overhang at the Center’s front door.
Gladys is quick to point out how much the entire Culpeper community does to support the Center. Dairy Queen brought in a special lunch for Mother’s Day, including a specially made ice cream cake. Various groceries provide breakfast foods every day. Joe, Connie, and William from Jefferson Home Builders were volunteering at the Center one day, when they noticed that members are given food (staples like milk, bread, eggs, canned goods) to take home on Wednesdays but didn’t have any way to keep the food cool while they carried it home. The next week the three volunteers brought large insulated bags to the Center, and now everyone has one with his or her name on it. Millie Lederer was instrumental in obtaining funding from the United Methodist Church for a much-needed stove for the Center’s kitchen. There are many more instances of such charity and support from Culpeper; this is only a small sampling. “This community is awesome to its senior citizens - awesome!” said Gladys. “We’re proud of our place here! It’s people in the community that help us, and we’re so, so grateful.”
There is a continuing need for other donated items, such as toilet tissue, Kleenex, and paper towels. If you can volunteer or help with donations, please contact Gladys at 540-825-5778 or firstname.lastname@example.org.