Starla Pointer/New-Register##Johnny’s Country Western Band play a tune during the celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Friends of the McMinnville Senior Center.
Starla Pointer/New-Register##Johnny’s Country Western Band play a tune during the celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Friends of the McMinnville Senior Center.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Friends of Senior Center marks 50 years

Actually, the organization started before any of the 320 current members were eligible to join. Retired but very active residents such as Bessie Cornie and Opal Hart formed the group in 1965 so seniors could get together to socialize, play and learn.

They called themselves “McMinnville Seniors Inc.” Two years ago, the 48-year-old group changed its name to reflect its venue.

Friends of the McMinnville Senior Center is open to everyone 55 and older. Dues are $15 a year.

Friends vice president Esther Smith said people don’t have to belong to the organization in order to eat at the senior center, have coffee, attend informational programs, play cards or join in the city-sponsored exercises and classes. But members have a say in the programs the center offers and how the budget is allocated.

Over the years, the organization has paid for upkeep and improvement of the senior center building, equipment repairs and purchases and supplies for the office, activity rooms and coffee gatherings.

In 2014, for instance, it contributed $10,000 toward reroofing the building and $1,000 to help with maintenance, according to Gordon Winter, chairman of the group.

Its expenditures also included money to develop a Friends garden out front and to buy new card tables, venetian blinds for game and craft rooms, a new freezer, a TV and cable subscription for the lounge, and Christmas bags for Meals on Wheels participants. In addition, Winter said, it paid for repairs to the billiard table, maintenance on the copy machine, refinishing the dining room floor and cleaning of carpets.

The Friends board meets monthly. In addition, many of the members volunteer at the center, doing everything from keeping up the landscaping and the memorial garden to helping with computer classes or, like Smith, volunteering in the kitchen.

To encourage seniors to join the organization, and as an incentive for members to pay their dues on time, Friends hosts a pancake breakfast in February. It’s free to those who are paid up.

Another incentive for joining Friends — a huge incentive, said Sedell Girard, former treasurer — is the group’s pass to the Evergreen Aviation Museum. Each member can use the pass twice a year. 

Back in 1965, the senior organization met weekly in a city-owned building downtown that’s long gone now, according to Jay Pearson, head of the McMinnville Parks and Recreation Department.

Seniors Inc. moved to a room in the then-new McMinnville Community Center in 1980. The group offered meetings, educational talks and recreational programs such as cards and pool.

Conveniently, the state senior services office was located in the community center, as well. “A good combination,” Pearson said.

The state office moved to a new building on McDaniel Lane in the 1990s. Not long after that, the city built the new senior center next to Wortman Park — on the opposite side of McDaniel.

Seniors Inc. relocated to the new building when it opened in October 1995. Founder Bessie Cornie spoke at the dedication ceremony as did Barbara Brewer Nelson, who had staffed the senior programs in the community center and would be the first director of the new building.

Today’s Friends of the Senior Center said they appreciate the people who started the group and pushed for a separate senior site.

If not for those earlier members, the McMinnville Senior Center might not exist. It would be missed, they said.

“This is the most beautiful setting. Everywhere you look, you see the park and the birds,” Smith said.

She and her husband, Carl, started visiting the senior center in 1997, a year after moving to McMinnville. They joined the Friends organization and she volunteered to help in the kitchen.

Smith said she likes the senior center and the Friends organization because they offer opportunities for her to meet people and make friends.

“I’m not a big card player, but I like to be social,” she said.

She recommends both the center and the organization to people who are new in town. “You can meet a big variety of people and do things at low- or no-cost,” she said.

Girard, the former treasurer, first came to the senior center with friends. 

“I had retired as controller of a private golf club and moved up here,” she recalled. “I wasn’t ready just to sit in my chair at home.”

She joined the Friends and soon was taking part in a variety of activities. Playing pinochle remains her favorite part of the senior center experience.

“Everybody loves the group. Everyone brings treats,” she said of the Thursday night card parties.

Whether they’re playing cards or bingo, working on quilts or wood carving, Girard said, all the regular groups are friendly. “This is a great place to get involved,” she said, “and being involved keeps you young.”

At this point, she said, she’s at the senior center three or four days a week. She can’t keep herself away. “My car thinks it’s supposed to come here,” she joked.

Jan and Ed Jones also are regulars at the senior center. They joined Friends because “we think it needs to be supported,” said Jan, who leads a clogging group.

“I don’t know what some people would do without the senior center,” she said.

Janused to work at the front desk. She and her husband still deliver meals on wheels. “We get a lot of ‘God bless yous’,” she said.

Addie Thomas has been coming to the senior center for a decade, ever since she moved to McMinnville. “If the senior center was not here, I wouldn’t live here,” she declared.

These days, the Friends member takes part in Jones’s clogging group, plays bingo and signs up for other classes. “There’s a class on Windows 10 coming,” she said, “and another on Smart Phones.”

She also loves the day trips Friends arranges. She’s looking forward to seeing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” later this year. 

Whether she’s going on an out-of-town trip or staying at the center, Thomas said, “this is a great place to be. It’s a lot of fun, I meet people and make friends.” 

Sigrid and Donald Cronin came to the senior center and joined Friends as soon as they moved to McMinnville this summer. They came to town be near their son, an emergency room doctor. They came to the senior center to meet new people, Sigrid said.

Her husband added, “we want to get to know the area and participate.”

On Friday, the Cronins joined Thomas, the Joneses, Girard, Smith and about 55 other Friends to mark the 50th anniversary of their organization. About 60 people gathered for the dinner, reminiscing as they listened to music from Johnny’s Country Western Band.

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