TIME TO PARTY!

The Methuen Senior Activity Center will be celebrating its 40th anniversary from 3-7pm on Friday, June 14. Celebrate four decades of laughter, friendship and community.

3-4pm: Open house and tours.

4-5pm: Speeches and recognition.

5-6 pm: Dinner served by Quality Catering.

6-7 pm: Mingling, music and dancing.

Tickets cost $10 and go on sale starting June 3 at 8am and will be sold Monday through Thursday, 8am-3pm, and Friday, 8am-noon. First come, first serve until sold out. Seating is limited.

 

Four decades of laughter, friendship and community – that’s how organizers of the Methuen Senior Activity Center’s upcoming 40th anniversary are describing the center’s history.

It’s a special place, open to all of the city’s seniors, where they can make friends, take care of their health, learn new skills, shop for bargains, play games, celebrate birthdays and attend life-enrichment programs.

“We can all be proud of all that the center has achieved over the past 40 years and look forward to what they will do in the (future),” said Gen Marks, president of the center’s Board of Trustees. “I feel very proud to be a part of it. We all do. There is friendship and camaraderie here.”

The 17,000-square-foot center opened in 1984. Over the years, the building has undergone renovations, technology has advanced, and programs and activities have expanded and changed.

In June, members will be able to attend an ice cream social, learn about dementia, participate in karaoke, play Bingo, sew with others, play cards, attend a free legal clinic, discover what they can do on iPhones and iPads, enjoy line dancing, participate in yoga, make greeting cards, and more.

The four-hour celebration is planned at the center for Friday, June 14 (see box).

“I’m looking forward to it,” said longtime member Al D’Agata, who serves on the city’s Council on Aging. “I’m going to guide people around, show them the different things that are going on. Some of these people will come in with walkers and canes, but they’re pretty interested in what’s in the future for the senior center.”

According to former executive director Corinne LaCharite-Johnson, who served 32 years in the role, the center was originally located at the Council on Aging office on Broadway and Evelyn Rudis was hired as the first director. She and Jeannette Courtemanche developed a vision of a larger center because the place was filling up so quickly. They reached out to Rene Morissette – “a mover and shaker” – who had done building projects in the community and enlisted his help.

“He designed a building and figured out about how much it would cost to start building it, and they all developed a building committee, which consisted of a group of about 20 seniors who were interested in helping them,” LaCharite-Johnson recalled.

Bank loans and fund-raising made it possible to build the center at the site of a former school at 77 Lowell St.

LaCharite-Johnson also credits Louise Flynn, Charlotte Blood, Joe Pappalardo, and their spouses for their involvement.

“They were so dedicated. It was unbelievable,” she recalled. “It was tough fund-raising in those days. They went around to the different schools and collected pennies from the kids. The theme was ‘Invest in the Future.’ They waged an incredible campaign. It’s just unheard of in the whole country – something like that to happen in the early ‘80s.”

LaCharite-Johnson, who came on board in 1989 and retired in 2021, said the center has won awards and recognitions over the years, and the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs in Boston has sent people exploring options for dealing with their own aging populations to see what Methuen has done.

“Evelyn had done a great job of building up the nutrition program and all of the cultural programs – painting, knitting and crocheting, ceramics, plus they had a billiards room, all that. Right from the get-go there was a lot going on,” she said.

Thanks to a city councilor, the center received its first computer. Operations at the center became more efficient after LaCharite-Johnson hired Linda Shaheen, who she said computerized much of what was at the center.

There were many other changes over the years. An activities position was added when the center was seeing approximately 400 people coming in each day. The center added an elevator, converted its woodworking shop into a fitness room, renovated its thrift shop, and more. Later, a pipe burst caused extensive damage in the building that had to be fixed.

“Over the years, you have to upgrade everything. The city has been great about updating the technology,” said LaCharite-Johnson who credited former Mayor Dennis DiZoglio for helping install a computer lab where over the years approximately 1,000 seniors would learn new skills.

“There were a lot of people involved, a lot of volunteers who helped us to move things along,” she added, crediting Courtemanche for donating about 25 hours of her time every week. “It was amazing.”

At the center, members can also sign up for day trips and extended tour trips, participate in an Adopt-A-Grandparent program, buy lunch, learn about important resources, such as energy assistance, borrow gently used medical equipment, and participate in or enjoy its Happy Hearts Choral Group.

“I would say in the process of all the years building up, we probably quadrupled what was happening and doubled the volunteer efforts. We had some 200-plus volunteers when I left, which was a very difficult time, because it was just after COVID,” LaCharite-Johnson recalled.

Several of the center’s leaders said they’ve seen more seniors in the community seeking help and the center directs them on where to go, including non-profit AgeSpan, which connects people to information and services.

Member Maureen Sharrock, who has answered phones in the office as a volunteer, received a call once from someone fearing that an elderly person was being exploited. Another person called looking for medical equipment.

During another call, a woman, afraid of her elderly parents living alone, sought out services.

“There’s a lot of referring that goes on here,” Sharrock said. “People just know that if they call us, we’re going to help them in some way.”

The center has extended a heartfelt invitation to the public to celebrate its significant milestone.

“Whether you’ve been part of our journey from the beginning or are just discovering the magic of our Center, we welcome you to join in the festivities,” reads a part of its recent newsletter.

At the celebration, it will be announced that trustees have decided to establish an annual scholarship, honoring Morissette, for Methuen residents. There will be raffles and a 50/50 drawing to benefit the scholarship fund.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful event,” Marks said. “It’s wonderful to honor the past, the present, and look forward to the future. There’s so much to the center now and it has changed over the past 40 years.”

But what hasn’t changed is the special camaraderie between members, said Pauline Hoh, the trustee board’s vice president. She helps in the thrift shop.

“When people come in, you get to know them. You greet them with a hug, with a ‘Hi, how are you? It’s nice to see you.’ Members become close to each other.”