Sunday, March 04, 2001

Senior center on the way

Facility in park to offer activities

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDEPENDENCE — Membership in a popular senior citizens group here is so coveted that residents of this fast-growing city routinely put their names on a waiting list before retirement.

        3 “People put their names on a list while they're still working, hoping that there will be a spot for them when they retire,” said Ruth Jacobs. As president of the Irish Rovers, Mrs. Jacobs — who “feels like 50” — presides over one of the city's largest social clubs for seniors.

        Despite the existence of three senior citizens' groups in Independence, lack of meeting space limits their membership and activities, advocates for seniors say. And with no senior centers in southern Kenton County, older residents have to travel to Elsmere or Walton if they want to participate in daily organized activities for seniors.

        That's why many applauded Saturday's groundbreaking for a 6,500- square-foot senior center in Memorial Park near the city's new firehouse. When the Independence Senior Center opens this fall, the one-story brick building will be home to everything from card games and bingo to hot meals and health screenings.

        The facility also will serve as an emergency shelter, and in the late afternoon and evenings, it will offer activities and functions for all age groups, said Nita Brake, Independence recreation director.

        Jean Hoffman, who will soon turn 74, can't wait for the center's opening.

        Every Friday, Mrs. Hoffman leaves her Independence farm to make the eight-mile trek to the Walton Senior Center, where she plays euchre and visits with friends.

        “This will make old people feel young again,” Mrs. Hoffman said. “We won't have to go so far to find something to do.”

        Barbara Gunn, executive director of Senior Services of Northern Kentucky, said the demand for senior centers will only increase, as the population ages.

        “The older population is beginning to grow by leaps and bounds,” Mrs. Gunn said. “The demographics are going to change dramatically in the next 10 to 20 years, as the first group of Baby Boomers reaches retirement age.”

        Senior centers help older residents stay connected with their communities, Mrs. Gunn said. Through such facilities, seniors have regular social interaction, thus avoiding the social isolation and depression plaguing many older people.

        Planning for the Independence Senior Center began soon after businessman Charlie Deters donated 26 acres to the city in December 1995, for a park.

        As a shelter, playground and football field were added to the park, the Independence Recreation Committee, headed by retiree Donna Yeager, lobbied for money to build a senior center.

        Four years ago, the city applied for a federal Community Development Block Grant, which is administered by the state Department of Local Government. State officials, under the mistaken impression that southern Kenton County already had a senior center, rejected the city's grant request.

        However, Independence reapplied in 1999. That year, Sally Davis, Gov. Paul Patton's top Northern Kentucky aide, visited the senior citizens picnic in Independence and was surrounded by constituents lobbying for a senior center.

        “When Sally Davis heard that we didn't have a center, she went back to Frankfort and fought for us,” Mrs. Yeager said. “She was instrumental in our getting a grant.”

        In November 1999, the governor awarded the $270,000 grant to Independence.

        But by then, the project's costs had increased. So this time, the city of Independence turned to Kenton County for help. Kenton Fiscal Court agreed to contribute $200,000 to the $880,000 project, with the city making up the difference.

        “I'm elated,” Mrs. Yeager said. “We faced a lot of obstacles. But now it's finally going to happen.”


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