A good time was had by all at the West Hickory Senior Center on Sept. 27, a day of celebration in honor of the center’s 40th year.

The multipurpose building at 400 17th St. SW is not only the place to which many older adults from in and around Hickory go for a variety of activities, but it’s also the home office of the Catawba County Council on Aging, a private nonprofit 501©3 organization directed by Vickie Blevins with Rose Hefner serving as administrative assistant.

Margie Abernethy established COA in 1976. With no designated facility at that time, she used a room at First Baptist Church in Hickory. In 1979, Margie partnered with the City of Hickory to build the West Hickory Senior Center, a state-certified Senior Center of Excellence.

So that’s a little of the center’s history. Now let’s move on to what makes the place “excellent.”

Three women unofficially known as “the three sisters” were the first celebration attendees to tell me a little about the center as well as themselves. Betty Buff and Liz Turner, both of Hickory, and their sister Barbara Hollar of Maiden were seated in a row, enjoying refreshments and listening to keyboard player and singer Barry Moon.

Betty spoke first: “This is a place for people to get together for arts, crafts, games, music, food, and a lot of learning experiences — learning to paint, computers, a library to borrow books.”

Liz added that the center is a place to make new friends and see old ones. She volunteers as a gofer and helps to serve food.

Betty shared that the center as well as COA’s satellite locations offers “[free] help with insurance problems and tax assistance. They help you sign up for insurance at 65.”

“People retire and then don’t know what to do. They can call Vickie or Rose to get help with insurance, taxes, wills, powers of attorney. . . And this is the location for one of Catawba County’s Senior Mornings Out, and there’s a Meals on Wheels program that works out of here, too.”

Betty regularly calls Meals on Wheels volunteers to remind them of upcoming delivery duties.

From time to time, Barbara plays the piano at the center “so whoever’s here can sing gospel music,” she said, explaining that she didn’t read music, but played by ear. “It’s a talent the Lord gave me.”

Vera Withers joined the three sisters and stated that she’d loved the center’s dance classes until one of her knees began causing her pain. Now she takes advantage of the day trips COA organizes once per month March through December.

The mention of dance classes prompted the women to point out Cecil Campbell, saying he was the volunteer line dancing instructor.

Over to Cecil I went. He said he’s been the center’s country line dancing teacher for about 15 years. “I’m 81 and still dancing,” he announced, pointing out that he instructs every Tuesday at 10 a.m. “I took line dancing classes here from Elberta Coulter. She was 91 when she quit, and I took over.” He also plays card games and delivers Meals on Wheels.

“This is my second home,” said the twice-widowed Cecil, whose third home is the Westmont Senior Center where he shoots pool. He also plays electric and bass guitars every Wednesday night at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hickory, he’s an active member of the West Hickory Lions Club, and he competes in the Senior Games. He’s won medals in dancing, billiards, softball throw, shuffleboard, cornhole, and so on. Cecil’s proof that staying active and being a people person sustains health and happiness.

Sitting at Cecil’s table was Warren Shanahan, the center’s volunteer PC (personal computer) teacher on Mondays from 9:30 to 11:30. Warren said he’d devised his own training documents and does insist that students “go home and practice two hours a day.” He added that once a class learns Windows, he switches to the topic of computer security. Warren’s currently considering teaching a class about Gmail, Google’s free email service.

Before he retired, Warren was “a computerized ticketing person,” he offered. The Boston, Mass., native was employed by Ticketron for 10 years and then handled ticketing for four Olympics and one Olympics-style event. He worked for the US Olympic Committee and then NBC. He’s also done ticketing at Arkansas State University and for Blumenthal Performing Arts and has worked at computer learning centers. Warren’s been teaching seniors at various locations in Hickory for about 15 years.

Warren’s philosophy is that if person has a talent or ability, he or she needs to pass it on. “It’s a blessing and should be shared,” said Warren.

By the time I finished talking to Warren, I was more interested in the refreshments table than any further conversation. It was, after all, lunchtime. While fishing out a couple of barbecued meatballs and plucking a few cubes of cheese from a platter, a longtime acquaintance joined me at the food station: Judy Carsey of Newton. She’s a COA board member as well as a participant in the chorus that practices at the senior center and then performs at retirement facilities, nursing homes, and churches, to name a few places. The group is currently known as the Prime Time Singers.

About her board membership Judy said, “It’s interesting work because we’re all about making life better for the senior citizens.” They, in turn, make life better for others. For example, several of the seniors correspond with a group of children from Banoak Elementary School in Vale. For about 20 years, students in Michelle Whitener’s class have been paired with senior center adults for what is called an intergenerational pen pal program. “It is so rewarding,” said Judy. “It gets seniors involved in young people’s lives.” Care is taken to match up pen pals who have something in common. Judy told me about a senior who enjoyed bowling who was partnered with a child who liked to bowl. At the end of the school year, the students visit the senior center to meet their pen pals and enjoy a party.

Vickie Blevins emphasized that COA activities were definitely not confined to the senior center, though it is a place to which any senior in Catawba County can go. Much of what COA offers, such as Medicare counseling and tax preparations, occurs at a variety of locations, including county branch libraries. “A lot of collaborations with other organizations,” said Vickie. “It’s great to have good community partners.”

As I was leaving, I noticed that Cecil had found a dance partner. The two looked like they belonged on a ballroom floor.

Happy anniversary, West Hickory Senior Center. You’re like a general store of food, fun, and services.

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