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Pioneers celebrated for the first 50 years

Pioneers encouraged for the next 50 years

Staff writer

It was a time to reflect on the past 50 years and plan for the next 50 when senior citizens from around the county gathered Thursday at Marion Senior Center to celebrate the 50th year of the Senior Citizens of Marion County organization.

Past directors, board members, and those considered pioneers were recognized.

Julie Govert Walter, executive director of North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, presented the chairman of the Senior Citizens of Marion County Inc., Lila Unruh, with a plaque, commemorating the milestone.

Walter also brought a copy of a dissertation written by Nancy Reynolds in the 1980s about the organization.

“In 1959, Marion County was interested in pursuing a grant which required a social worker for three years,” Walter read.

The county did acquire the grant from the Ford Foundation, which aided in establishing the first senior center in Marion County. The social worker was Elisabeth Reznicek.

“Just because we’ve finished school it doesn’t mean we’ve learned everything,” Walter said. “People with good will and good intentions can accomplish things. We need to set aside rivalries.”

Calling the first organizers “pioneers,” Marion County Department on Aging Coordinator Gayla Ratzlaff said the first pioneers of the Golden Years Inc., now known as Senior Citizens of Marion County Inc., began on this journey when there were few programs or services for older people. The county department has served as liaison with the county commission and administers county funds to the senior centers.

Unlike traditional pioneers, the first organizers didn’t have to deal with crossing treacherous country. Instead, they dealt with the public’s stigma against older people.

Meetings first were held in churches, VFW buildings, a city warehouse, and a 4-H building. When they became more established, they began building their own centers in cities.

Today there are 10 senior centers in Marion County. Four of the centers serve meals five days a week.

The county has health service providers, helping elderly remain in their homes. The North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging provides funding for the Senior Care Act, a case manager, and programs.

Marion County Commission and residents saw a need for a county office to provide information and referrals to older adults. The local department assists older adults with enrolling in programs, and provides information and transportation.

Senior Citizens of Marion County now prepares to move into new territory as our country sees a rise in the number of older individuals.

Joyce Clark, now of Winchester, was the first coordinator, hired in 1978. She and her husband, James, then principal of Hillsboro High School, lived in Hillsboro.

“The first office was in Hillsboro hospital,” Clark said.

The office then moved to the Marion County Courthouse annex. During her tenure, a transportation bus was purchased. The Marion Senior Center was utilized for meals and served as a waiting area for appointments with the doctor for older adults.

“Older people are the easiest to work with because their personalities are developed and they are always willing to help,” Clark said.

Following Clark’s footsteps was Noreen Weems of Peabody, who became coordinator in 1980.

The day she trained with Clark, Weems said it was the groundbreaking for the senior center in Marion.

“Senior centers are the focal points in communities,” Weems said. “It was a joy and delight to work for, with, and beside seniors of Marion County.”

In 1982, Lanelle Tajchman was hired as secretary and transportation coordinator. She continues to serve the department but is now Lanelle Hett.

Weems retired in 2007.

“Let’s go another 50 years,” Weems said. “We need to leave another legacy.”

History of the centers

Marion County received a $26,500 grant from the Ford Foundation on Aug. 4, 1960 with a presentation Sept. 6 at Wheel In Café in Hillsboro. The money would be used to establish a countywide organization for older people, identifying six locations for senior centers.

The organization was formed as Golden Years Inc., later becoming Senior Citizens of Marion County Inc.

Marion County Department for Elderly was established in 1978 to administer a mill levy approved by Marion County Commission and coordinate services throughout the county.

Now known as the department on aging, it serves as a link between a 12-member board and the commissioners. In the agency’s history, there have been only four coordinators — Clark, January 1978 to July 1980; Weems, August 1980 to May 2007; Jayne Gottschalk, May 2007 to February 2008; and Ratzlaff, February 2008 to present.

The first six senior centers in the county — Hillsboro, Marion, Burns, Peabody Florence, and Goessel — were established 1960 through 1963. Board members of the inaugural organization in 1960 were Dorothy DuVall and Selma (Maybell) Steele of Marion, Wesley Loewen of Hillsboro, and Dorman Becker of Durham.

Hillsboro seniors had their first meeting as Golden Years Inc. on Feb. 22, 1961. Dan Stolfus was president. They met at the city building. A city-owned building was remodeled by volunteers to serve as a meeting place. In 1976, a building was purchased at 212 N. Main St., Hillsboro, for $45,000. Funds were raised and with a $15,000 grant, the building was remodeled and furnished.

Former presidents are Art Balzer, Art Unrau, and Kermit Ratzlaff.

The center is now known as Hillsboro Senior Center and Ray Matz serves as president. Brenda Moss is the senior center/nutrition site manager. Betty Gayle is cook.

The first president of the Marion seniors group was Claude Ayler. The group became organized in 1962. In 1977, a new group of seniors, Marion Builders, was established with J.L. Fruechting as president. Two years later, the two groups began to work together. In 1980, Marion Builders incorporated to establish a new senior center as a county focal point to all senior centers in the county. The first Marion Senior Center/nutrition site manager was Dola Meierhoff.

Former presidents include Herb Wullscheleger, Sailor Koon, George Downing, and Marilyn Geis.

The current president is Shirley Moore. Janet Bryant is manager and Theresa Graham is the cook.

Organizing in the spring of 1962, the Burns Golden Years group was led by president Robert Freeland. Earlier in 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon presented a distinguished service award to Burns from the Institute of International Education for the community’s hospitality show to foreign students from the University of Kansas.

Other center presidents included Ethel Spinden, Pat Huls, and Kathleen Brenzikofer. James Olberding currently serves as the board’s leader.

Established in 1962, the Peabody center’s first president was Jane Pierce. The original structure and an adjoining lot were given to the seniors by Peabody Kiwanis Club. For more than 25 years, quilting has been one of the main sources of fundraising. Since 2000, seniors have made peppernuts to sell as well. The center is one of four nutrition sites in the county.

Former presidents were Harry Doughty, Lois Graham, Orlene Scrivner, and Pat Henderson. Dorothy Whisler was the first nutrition site manager.

Currently, Nellie Schmidt is president. Arlene Unruh is site manager and Kim Nellans is the cook.

The Florence Over 50 Club was organized in January 1963, with Cecelia Lalouette as president. In December 1978, the group became the Florentine Senior Center Inc., and D.C. Stevens was president. Other presidents were Benard and Helen Stromberg, Charles Rogers, Taylor Rush, and Lois Huntley. The current president is Betty Ireland. Volunteers pick up meals daily from the Marion site to deliver to those homebound in Florence.

Meeting for the first time in March 1963, the Golden Years Group of Goessel was formed. In1969, J.G. Klassen was elected president. AGAPE — All Goessel Area Projects for the Elderly Inc. — was formed in March 1976. On May 6, 1976, the mayor of Goessel proclaimed it was Older American Day. The occasion marked the beginning of the nutrition site. Meals were served Tuesdays and Thursdays in Bethesda Home. Groundbreaking for a new building was Nov. 5, 1977. Esther Unruh was the first president of AGAPE and Vivian Voth the first nutrition site manager. Other presidents were Alvin Voth, Wilbert Schmidt, and Al Schmidt. Elaine Goertzen currently serves in that position. LaNora Duerksen and Denise Woelk share the position of nutrition site manager. Sarita Blosser is the cook.

Lehigh Senior Center was established in October 1977 and incorporated in 1978. P.W. Goering was the first president. They met in the First Mennonite Church basement for a short time. Later, a house was purchased and renovated. Women began quilting in April 1978 and made 344 quilts. Former presidents include E.P. Klassen, Roland Duerksen, and Edward Jantz. On July 9, 2008, Lehigh seniors disbanded.

Established in 1977, Senior Citizens of Lincolnville’s first president was Mrs. Otto Lehman. The group first met in the 4-H building. In 2004, Evelyn Matz and Betty Frobenius purchased a house in which the seniors could meet. The building was sold in 2009. Seniors now meet in Lincolnville Community Building. Former presidents include Verna Lewerenz, Mildred Suffield, and Evelyn Matz. Maxine Barton currently is the contact person.

Tampa senior citizens chose their name, Sunflower Senior Citizens of Tampa, and were established Oct. 10, 1977. Elsie Vainer was the first president. The seniors met in the American Legion building until September 1999. The city received a grant to renovate the community building to serve as the senior center. The remodeled building was air conditioned with an updated kitchen. Former presidents include Irene Busch, Tillie Hein, Evelyn Hensley, and Margaret Jirak. Jane Vajnar currently serves as president.

Durham Golden Years Inc. was established prior to the 1978 merger of Golden Years Inc. and the Marion County Council on Aging. Geraldine Frick was the first president. Former presidents include Henrietta “Hankie” Geis, Edwin Winter, Glenn and Doris Crowther, and Fiennes Jantz. Lila Unruh currently serves as president. The group meets in the community building.

Ramona senior citizens were the last of the senior organization in Marion County to organize. It was 1979 and Boyde Coffey was the first president. In early 1980, Dan and Wanda Riffel gave the former Pumpkin School building to the group. Three lots were given to the group from Ramona State Bank President Robert Arnold. The school building was moved on the lots in Ramona with assistance of a grant from North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging. Former presidents include Wanda Riffel, Naomi Fike, and Norma Bird. The current president is Darlene Sondergard.

Last modified Oct. 28, 2010

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