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Senior Citizens Center had lasting influence on Pawhuska

The recent announcement of the closing of Pawhuska’s Senior Citizens Center evoked a lot of memories for a number of area residents. Today’s column will address the history of the Center.

The Senior Citizens Center launched on Feb. 22, 1966, as the Young-in-Heart Club. Under the auspices of GFWC Heeko, a communitywide party was held in the Fellowship Hall of the First Christian Church. GFWC Heeko Historian Eileen Monger noted, “In the early 1960s, before the emergence of existing federal programs, Heeko members felt a need and a desire to provide something for our senior citizens. In addition to getting our senior citizens out of the house, Heeko wanted to prove that being older was not a bad thing and that our seniors could still contribute to society. The club voted seed monies of $200 to sponsor the Young-in-Heart Club and held our first party on Washington’s Birthday.”

Prior to its inauguration, GFWC Heeko members distributed more than 350 letters to area churches, home extension groups, civic organizations and individuals. “The media provided excellent publicity,” continued Monger. “Heeko members furnished refreshments, door prizes, game equipment, bridge and bingo prizes as well as transportation. The inaugural event was a tremendous success.”

Community enthusiasm and support continued with monthly Young-In-Heart social events. Extension club members provided refreshments along with door and bingo prizes. “Father Justin Gavin of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was an enthusiastic supporter,” said Monger. “At the club’s first St. Patrick’s Day party, Father Gavin danced an Irish jig. Rev. Dick Duckworth of the Christian Church provided inspirational leadership.”

Participants were encouraged to share their hobbies and interests. This resulted in an impressive array of coin and stamp collections, leather work, quilts, and knitting among other hobbies. A retired refinery worker brought in his hand-tooled leather saddle. Another participant talked about his success as a bronze sculptor, a passion he began after he was past middle age.

As interest continued to escalate, a grant application was made to the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), Unit of Aging. Pawhuska’s non-profit Chamber of Commerce agreed to serve as sponsor. The grant was approved and would provide special opportunities for area seniors, including a paid director who would oversee weekday activities. Young-in-Heart was renamed Senior Citizens. A board of directors was formed to oversee the three-year grant which would be matched with in-kind services and material aid.

GFWC Heeko members, Mrs. Ruby Duke and Ms. Violet Willis, were elected board president and secretary-treasurer, respectively. A two-room downtown building was secured and the GFWC Heeko Club paid for the first year’s rent of $720. Mrs. Nanette Potts was employed as the first director. Volunteers cleaned and painted the new facility, replaced electrical wiring and installed heating units. Furnishings were provided through in-kind donations, including $1,000 from the City of Pawhuska.

Mrs. Potts served as Senior Citizens director for 11 years and provided participants with a myriad of activities, such as bridge lessons, ceramic, china, water and oil painting classes. Men enjoyed playing pitch and dominos. Monthly birthday parties were celebrated with music, games and refreshments.

Entertainment included book reviews, sing-a-longs, square dancing, a kitchen band, fiddle playing, whistling and films. Educational lectures targeted home safety, fire prevent, social security, health, along with wills and taxes. Monthly blood pressure testing was also available.

During this period, the Center acquired a bus through the generosity of Osage County’s most famous movie star, the late Ben (Son) Johnson and a $1,500 DPW grant. The bus was used to pick up area seniors and for occasional outings. Eventually, with the expense of insurance, maintenance and minimal usage, the bus was sold. Former Senior Citizens Director Mary Kay Warren said she saw the bus in Perry recently.

In 1978, a building fund was started when the Senior Citizens purchased a car from a local dealer and sold tickets on it. Additional monies were raised through twice-weekly benefit meals, raffles, arts and crafts bazaars, flea markets, garage sales, and the volunteer efforts of individual members. A total of $25,000 was raised.

Fourteen years later, on Feb. 22, 1980, GFWC Heeko hosted an open house for more than 300 townspeople to showcase the Center’s newly completed 50x100 facility, conveniently located one block off Main Street, behind City Hall. Built on City property, the spacious facility would house a kitchen, pantry, storage, restrooms, craft and ceramic rooms and offices. Its central downtown location included plentiful parking which could easily accommodate groups and organizations needing a meeting spot.

Mrs. Donna Stephens was Center Director and Eileen Monger was GFWC Heeko President. Monger would eventually join the board of directors and become a key contributor to the Center. Other Directors included Susan Rucker, Sandy Strahm, Mary Kay Warren, Jamie Woolman McClain, Vici Povio, and Roger Shepherd.

When the three-year grant ended, funding for the center had to be obtained through self-efforts. Participants began making items to sell at bazaars and benefit meals were served. With a shortage of local eateries, the center invited the public to enjoy nutritious meals which drew upwards of over 100 persons. Carry-outs were provided to homebound seniors, long before the state nutrition programs began.

Through the years, the Senior Citizens Center has been used by a variety of organizations, including the Salvation Army, Retired Teachers, Pawhuska Federation of Democratic Women’s Club, along with weekly visits from a Social Security Representative and an office for the Community Action program’s Information and Referral Service. Most recently, the Center hosted weekly meetings for Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions.

Mary Kay Warren recalls when the Center was a hub for a continual round of activities and lunches were a daily occurrence. “We had four card tables going every afternoon and would serve dessert to the players. We also had a large group of people come to the Center for quilting bees. Jean Leedom was in charge of the quilting part of it. There were all kinds of classes going on, such macramé, ribbon flowers, and ceramics. Ceramics proved to be one of our strongest activities. Joan Bennett, Teddy Barton and Helen Harris were outstanding ceramic artists. Their crafts brought in much needed revenue for the Center.” Warren also attributed the Center’s success to the dedication of Bob and Joan Bennett. “They never missed a day and where here when the doors opened.”

Throughout the years, Pawhuska’s Senior Citizens Center has become a victim of inflation, increased maintenance expenses, and dwindling participation. Its closing this month marks the end of an era when the Center enters the realms of Pawhuska’s illustrious history.

According to Center volunteer Joan Core, four people were served at the Center’s last luncheon on October 31st. “There were some days when we only had two people show up for lunch,” said Core. “Since the Center is not government funded, we had to purchase all our supplies. A major portion of our budget came from noon meals and our annual memorial day flowers.” The last official function to be held at the Center was the Lion’s Club annual pancake breakfast on November 2nd.

As of this writing, the Senior Citizens Board has not decided if it will hold a dispersal sale on November 15-16 or a public auction. Although the building is on City property, its contents belong to the Senior Citizens Center. Core said, “Monies raised from the dispersal or auction will be used to pay back salary for Director Roger Shepherd and any outstanding utility bills. No decision has been made yet as how to handle any remaining funds.” Current board members are Holly McGuire, Fred Dunn, Lloyd Smith, Dean Campbell, Earl and Helen Shepherd, Debbie Shepherd and Joan Core.

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