Charlie McLeod, 84, has all sorts of health problems, including heart and back trouble, macular degeneration, glaucoma and a bum shoulder.

On top of that, he is navigating a relatively new world, having moved more than a year ago to Smithfield from New Hampshire to be closer to his daughter, who takes care of his every need.

While he appreciates all she does, in a sense it’s like starting all over again for him, trying to meet new people and setting down roots away from the familiarity of home.

He had several friends in New Hampshire, but he doesn’t hear from them.

“It’s four hours away. I don’t even get any telephone calls from them,” he said. “I’ve got a stupid computer which I don’t know how to use.”

But McLeod is reaching out and diving in. On Wednesday he and his volunteer senior companion, Ellen Govoni, stumbled upon the Senior Gathering event at University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Skowhegan when Govoni stopped to drop off paperwork.

More than a dozen seniors from all over Somerset County were sitting under the shade of a large birch tree on the lawn, enjoying lunch, chatting and getting to know each other.

McLeod, a retired union carpenter, acknowledged he is a shy person, but he plans to return to Senior Gathering and maybe talk to people about possibly organizing a square dance event.

“I did square dance calling for 50 years all over Maine, New Hampshire,” he said. “I was thinking we could start a senior citizen square dance. There’s all kinds of problems involved in that — where to get a hall big enough and how to get enough people interested in it.”

The Senior Gathering, designed to provide a place for seniors to socialize, play games, take part in activities such as Make a Soup Day, share refreshments and sometimes hear a speaker, is held 1 to 3:30 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesday of every month in the Cooperative Extension’s meeting room at 7 County Drive. Anyone 55 and older is encouraged to join, free of charge, and may call the Cooperative Extension at 474-9622 ahead of time to notify organizers, according to Gail Watson, who coordinates the University of Maine Center on Aging’s Senior Companion Program and is administrative specialist for the Cooperative Extension.

Watson and Lourine Weller, community health worker for Somerset Public Health, which partners with the Cooperative Extension and Redington-Fairview General Hospital to put on the Senior Gathering, said a $900 grant through Somerset Public Health allowed organizers to start the program in January and continue for about two years.

Senior Gatherings also are held in Canaan, Smithfield and Madison, according to Weller.

“It’s really a collaborative thing, and we hope it will grow,” Watson said.

The idea, she said, is to help put on the gatherings and eventually have the seniors do it on their own. Meanwhile, people may donate to the program by going to the website Volunteers also are being sought to help plan future events.

On Wednesday after lunch, the group moved into the air-conditioned meeting room inside the Cooperative Extension office where they shared cookies donated by The Bankery, a Skowhegan bakery.

They set up Scrabble and dominoes games at two long tables near a kitchenette. While several seniors were quiet at first, they soon were sharing stories and even erupted into raucous laughter at one point.

Paula Knox, 63, of Skowhegan, said she was meeting new people and having fun.

“We love it,” she said. “We’re like sisters and brothers here.”

Agnes Totherow, 79, of St. Albans, was attending for the first time. She was driven there by her volunteer senior companion, Deb LeCourt, 61, and LeCourt’s husband, Victor, 73, also of St. Albans.

“I’ve been shut in for two years,” Totherow said. “My husband passed away seven years ago.”

Totherow, who worked in factories many years before moving to Maine from South Carolina, was in ill health and very lonely, she said, until the LeCourts came along and befriended her. Deb LeCourt said they enjoyed their time at Senior Gathering and plan to come again.

“Anything like this is good for seniors,” she said. “It gives them some purpose in life and something to worry about and it keeps them busy.”

Totherow has chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and was hospitalized four times, but is now feeling much better.

“I came this close to dying,” she said, raising her thumb and forefinger so they nearly touched. “My doctor said to call my daughter in because I wouldn’t be here in the morning. Death by seconds, and here I am.”

She smiled big, as her new friends told her it was her turn at dominoes.

“God performed a good miracle with me,” she said. “He brought me to where I am.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.