RICHMOND — People have been looking for the fountain of youth since Ponce de Leon took a left turn out of Spain and wound up in the New World. It could just be that the magic the 15th-century explorer was looking for can be found a little up the Kennebec River, on Front Street in Richmond, at the Golden Oldies Senior Center, where the only thing more obvious than the wrinkles and gray hair is the energy and fun that is as contagious as a cold.

“I love the people here and there’s always something going on,” said Ellen Kroot, of Richmond. “If you’re down there, you don’t have to be at home doing housework.”

The senior center, at 314 Front St., on Saturday celebrated its 10th anniversary in the best way it knows how – with lots of food, a smattering of games and a ton of laughter and good-natured ribbing, such as when former director Bette Horning announced she was going to sing a happy anniversary song in her best Tiny Tim falsetto.

“You’ve waited a lifetime for this,” Horning said.

“I hope I have to wait another lifetime before I hear it again,” Kroot quipped without missing a beat, kicking off an eruption of laughter across the room.

Undeterred, Horning serenaded the crowd with flair, waiving her arms like a musically challenged conductor as she pranced from table to table. Horning perfected the technique as director when she used the same routine to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to the center regulars.

“I used to call them my children,” Horning said.

Those are the types of connections Betty Pratt hoped would spring to life when the town hired her as the center’s first director in 2005.

“The town wanted a director for senior programs,” said Pratt, who held the position until 2011. “It was needed. They needed a place to get together and meet one another. We call it our home away from home.”

The group started meeting at the Town Office but was forced to move when the space became unavailable, Horning said. They approached Gary Nash, who donated space in one of his buildings.

“He’s provided the space rent-free,” Saunders said. “It’s very generous.”

The town pays the director’s salary and utilities for the space, but the seniors hold fundraisers to pay for day-to-day needs, such as cleaners, as well as snacks, outings and other items.

About 50 people, some from as far away as Wiscassett, make the trip to the senior center at least once a week, current Director Laurie Saunders said. There’s no age limit, but activities are designed for those 55 and older.

“They are valued as having something to offer,” Saunders said. “They’re caring people. We’ve become a family.”

Saunders keeps that family busy. In addition to the regular hours, there are often a host of additional activities throughout the week and weekend. Saunders prepares a calendar every month to announce the upcoming activities. The dates are full of activities, such as outings by the League of Losers bowling league, which plays in Augusta once per month, and outings to museums and other points of interest. Saunders also plans informational seminars on finances, health and other topics; and he regularly schedules presentations by town officials.

Horning, who was the director from 2011 through 2014, said the center has hit its stride under Saunders’ leadership.

“Laurie’s doing a super job,” she said. “It’s really grown.”

Saunders said the group works to stay engaged with the community with opportunities to visit with young children and elderly people who are unable to leave their homes. The senior center also is host to a yearly haunted house activity.

“They come in the front and go out the back, and hopefully we can scare the hell of out them,” Saunders said. “They’re a good group for volunteering.”

Though the senior center is the place to gather for games and laughter, it is filling a vital role for the elderly community, Kroot said. Looking around the room of about 40 people on Saturday, Kroot said all but three of the visitors are widows or widowers. The seniors have become, in a sense, a support group for the grieving.

“There always a lot of support,” Kroot said.

Joyce Pinkham, of Richmond, who has visited the center regularly since it opened, found that support when she lost Alexander Pinkham, her husband of 59 years.

“It’s a place to get your mind off it,” she said.

Dorothy Wallace, of Richmond, who also has been a regular for all 10 years the center has been open, said the companionship is vital.

“Everyone gets along so well,” she said. “We have a lot of fun here.”

Denise Jasmin, of Dresden, used to visit regularly with her mother, Elizabeth Damioli. The senior group became a fast cadre of friends when she moved in with Jasmin.

“I brought her to this great place,” Jasmin said. “Everyone just welcomed her. The spirit here is terrific.”

Pratt, surveying the room of laughter, said she is proud of how the program has grown and continues to fill a need.

“A lot of wonderful friendships have developed here,” Pratt said.

Kroot couldn’t resist her own humorous spin.

“It keeps us active so our kids don’t have to worry about us,” she said. “We’re not out in the streets.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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