Senior center nagivates COVID-19

Gray Hughes

The Hill City Senior Center has navigated the COVID-19 waters, and now its ready to return to full activity.

The center was closed for roughly two-and-a-half months, said Mary Walton, executive director of the senior center, and did a light opening in the summer offering exercise two days a week and a coffee hour the other three.

“I hope we get open,” said Dale Householder, who is the president of the senior center board of directors. “We’re having a board meeting on Sept. 16, and I am hoping the board will decide to open the center back up to normal activities at that juncture.”

By that date, Householder said people should know how events such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Wine, Brew and BBQ and the school year starting would impact numbers.

If the board is OK with how those events went here COVID-wise, Householder said he believes the senior center would be ready to go.

The Hill City Senior Center was incorporated in 1974 as a nonprofit. The building the senior center occupies was built from donations from area residents. At the conclusion of the building being built and occupied, it was turned over to the city of Hill City, but it will always be maintained as a senior center.

In normal times, the senior center offers a Sunday breakfast on the second Sunday of each month every month except for June, July and August. It also offers a pot-luck, birthday lunch, share a lunch and lunch bunch. Members can play card games such as bridge and hand and foot. There is a monthly foot clinic and exercise classes during the week.

The senior center also offers its Rally breakfasts, where in the last Rally it served roughly 3,000 breakfasts.

Today, the senior center has 216 members and 47 corporate members.

By the time the senior center opens, the board also hopes to know how the summer tourism season impacted COVID-19 cases, as well, said Bill Kassube, vice president of the senior center board.

“Things should be pretty good,” he said. “They’re looking good now.”

Closing the senior center in March was done for the safety of its members, Householder said, adding it wasn’t prudent at that time to keep it open.

Now, though, the board can gather information and see where they’re at to make a better decision.

“I think we’re in this enough that people can make their own decisions if they want to join activities or not,” Walton said.

Members are not forced to participate in activities, Householder said. It’s all free choice, and the senior center is there to offer activities.

If members participate, that’s great, he added, and if members chose not to the board will support that decision.

The Sunday breakfasts are a big moneymaker for the senior center, but it had to cancel two of its breakfasts this spring.

To offset costs, Walton applied and obtained a grant through Black Hills Energy. It normally takes 60 to 90 days to hear back, but Walton said she heard back in two days.

The senior center was able to obtain a $1,200 grant, which Walton described as a relief.

And the Rally breakfasts, too, were a success, Householder said.

“It’s great. I mean, it’s like a little weight off of our shoulders because we were going into an unknown,” he said. “We were doing it totally different than we ever had done it before. …It was very well-planned by (Walton), and it came out to be a very successful event.”

Householder believes that the breakfast style done during Rally — which was held outside and people could order at the windows — would be done in the future and will definitely be done for the September breakfast.

At this point, Householder said he expects to see the senior center return to normal activities.

The senior center itself is a focal point for the community, Householder added, and has operated as a community center and senior center for years.

He added that he expects to see people return to the senior center again.

“I think we’ll get back to most of our normal activities,” Householder said.” I think it’s back to normal. We don’t know what normal is. Normal is a different normal than it was three months ago, six months ago. But it’s going to be back to coping with what we have to cope with.”

Walton agrees.

She said she expects it to return to regular operations.

People can make their own choices, she said.

“It’s time as far as I’m concerned,” Walton said. “We’ve had enough people come to us and say, ‘When are you going to open up?’ ”

That being said, both Householder and Walton said they would take COVID-19 very seriously.

The two both said they are mindful of the virus, but, as Walton said: “We’re in this long enough that I feel like people can make up their own minds whether they come in or not.”

However, the senior center will not be reckless, and Householder said the board would be proactive.

If COVID-19 does hit and the senior center has to shut down again, the board is not opposed to doing that, he said.

“Whatever will be safest for the membership and the community, we’re going to take that into consideration going forward,” he said.

When the senior center was closed, Walton created call lists so that members could call one another and make sure they’re OK.

As the senior center moves forward with reopening, there will still be people who do not feel comfortable returning, but Walton said those people would not be forgotten.

For Kassube, the senior center represents a place where people can go and talk.

“You make a lot of friends here,” he said. “The camaraderie in here is really good, for me anyway.”

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