Several years ago, before all the modern conveniences now available, people enjoyed the little spare time they had to relax. Men might gather at the local pool hall Saturday afternoon to share tall tales, play a round of pool, dominos, and maybe chew tobacco.
Maybe at the same time the ladies would meet for quilting parties or share recipes of their newest dishes.
Like pay telephone booths and full-service gasoline stations, these group events are a thing of the past.
Hold on. That’s not all that accurate. It is still happening today in Claremore — all but the chewing tobacco part, that is.
The Claremore Senior Center is a popular meeting spot for many senior citizens. What started almost 50 years ago as a project small enough to fit in a corner, is today a spacious modern facility.
One of the most important things to remember today is do not get caught standing in the door way on Wednesday’s “bean day” or any other time mashed potatoes and gravy are on the menu.
In addition to the games and activities available, healthy and nutritious lunches are served five days a week.
Sharon McDonald has served as director for the past 30 years. Assistant Susan Smith has been with her for 25 of those.
Both are busy getting settled in their new surroundings at the corner of Blue Starr Drive and Sioux Street, the former Assembly of God church. The building, after a major remodeling, now houses separately the Senior Center and the Claremore Fire Department Administration offices.
It is a far cry from when the first thoughts of some type of place for senior citizens came up. The current director credits former city businessman Albert Chronister of getting the project started.
A three-year grant through a Christian program was obtained in February 1966. A location was needed and city officials cleared out a small area in the then community center at City Hall.
Not sure how long the effort would last, it still was a start. In time, federal, state and local funds were obtained to keep it open and growing.
The program fell under the local direction of Park and Recreation Director Floyd Culp. Christine Sibley was appointed director.
In the beginning, it was open four hours a day and all meals were covered dishes brought in. Activities then included card games and a few trips out to various events.
About 30 people took part.
In late 1980, ground was broken north of town for a new center. Before construction could start, city officials decided a third fire station was needed in that area.
Still, the Senior Center made a move out of its cramped civic center location. The former downtown Safeway Grocery Store at 104 Muskogee became the new home.
When health reasons caused Mrs. Sibley to slow down, Mayor Tom Pool asked Mrs. McDonald to serve as assistant.
After decades of serving the community, the Senior Center has stepped up in style with its latest move.
“Everything is so much nicer here: the lighting, the fixtures, the added space...the whole building,” states the director.
“This is a gift to the people of Claremore,” she adds. “Mickey Perry as mayor was a huge supporter and helped make this building possible.”
Usually around 150 people will be present for lunch. Another 40 or so will order carry-out. Monthly menus are prepared in advance and the numbers jump for the favorites like the mentioned beans and mashed potatoes.
“It goes without saying Thanksgiving turkey and fixings are the most popular meals. We might serve over 400 on the Wednesday before,” Sharon points out.
In charge of preparing the meals is Larry Green.
Other part-time employees are Lavern Self, Edna Dodson, and Virginia Rhine. Numerous volunteers show up to help serve and clean up.
One of the biggest improvements between the old and the new is the dining area. It is completely separated from the games area. Where the previous location had room for 168 seats, there is currently 216 with room for more if needed.
Thanks to an anonymous donor all the seats are new.
Maybe some refuse to tell their age, but all the regulars here are glad to admit to birthdays. On that date, the birthday boy or girl receives a free lunch.
Regular prices have remained at $2.50 in-house and $3 for carry-out.
Both McDonald and Smith make sure one of them is always on time to open the doors at 8 a.m.
“We can get here early and still someone will be waiting to get in,” said Susan. “Even on snow days when we can’t open, one of us must come in to tell them.”
“We have some that come every day the year around,” added Sharon. “It is like a big family. We have a few problems with each other at times, but that’s what makes it always interesting around here.”
Officially the Senior Center is for individuals over 50 years of age.