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20 years...and counting

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Morris Senior Community Center celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend, and there might not be a busier building in town.

The center, of course, caters to the wants and needs of area senior citizens, who conceived of it and sustain it through countless volunteer hours. But a quick glance at what goes on there makes it clear it's a facility for everyone.

The center was built in 1988, and a program May 3 will mark the anniversary. The day begins at 9 a.m. with rolls and coffee, and at 10:30 a.m. the program begins, with Della Conroy providing music. Judy Nord-Johnson, Stevens County Coordinator on Aging, and Morris City Manager Blaine Hill will speak. At noon, a lunch of sandwiches, salad and bars will be served, and door prizes will be given out throughout the day.

The center is home to the Morris Senior Citizen's Club, as well as the Nutrition Center and the Board of Aging. Through the Nutrition Center and Meals on Wheels program, more than 100 meals are served daily.

And throughout the year, in addition to many senior social events, clinics and shows - such as Charlie Maguire's concert last week -- the center is rented for showers, anniversaries, birthday parties, card parties and other meetings.

"Everybody works so well together here," said Pauline Carr, president of the Morris Senior Citizens Club. "If somebody from the senior center is not here, the people in nutrition are so good about helping out, and the same goes the other way. It's really a community effort."

The club, and the center, were born of that same spirit.

The senior club was founded in 1974 as a result of the Older Americans Act of 1965. The goal was to ensure all seniors could live independently in their homes while still having access to services and medical care.

The club set up shop in what was then the Anderson Hatchery building. Volunteer labor renovated the building, and dues of $1 per year helped pay for utilities.

In 1981, the club moved to the former City Hall and fire house on Oregon and East 6th Street, and the group began fundraising for a new building. The seniors pledged $30,000, funds which were solicited from private donors and through bake sales, said Frances VanZomeren, club historian.

"There were a lot of doughnuts sold," she said with a smile.

At that same time, the City of Morris was looking to build a community building.

The groups joined their efforts, and the Morris Senior Community Center group contributed its money to the city for a share of the new building. It's now home to the center and the Morris City Council meets in an adjacent room that also is used for various events and meetings. And there is another room for those who want to use computers or need help from University of Minnesota, Morris students getting started on things such as email or Internet use.

The center is a perfect place for seniors who have lost a spouse or for those who are new in town, said Agnes Searle, an anniversary organizer.

"There are a lot of people who would be sitting at home all day long by themselves," Searle said. "Instead, they can take a shuttle bus down here, socialize and have a hot meal."

In addition to regular events such as crocheting, bridge, bingo and dominos, the seniors have created a display of crafts, place mats, gift bags and recycled greeting cards for sale. There also are regular services and clinics available, such as tax help and public health clinics. And annual community events bring together seniors and students.

The Christmas Bazaar features bake and craft sales, raffles, and morning lunch and noon meals. UMM students put in many hours with seniors organizing the event. In the spring, Heritage Days bring the seniors together with area school students to relive the childhoods and working lives of the seniors.

"It's important for seniors' self-esteem," said Liz Schmidt, seniors club treasurer. "People love to volunteer and see that they're doing something worthwhile to help."

The Morris Senior Community Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (320) 589-2951.