Western Line Dancing is a boot-stompin’, toe-tappin’ good time that’s been taking place at the Hamilton Senior Center for 35 years.
Currently, DJ Bea Paxson does the calling for the group of a dozen or so dancers each Tuesday, and Friday and said it is inspiring.
“I’m totally intimidated, don’t even know what I’m getting myself into but having the best time,” Paxson said. “I’ve always wanted to join and they’ve welcomed me. My favorite part is after we dance we have prayer, we give thanks in a circle then sometimes go to lunch together. It’s more than just a fitness thing, it is actually an opportunity for the girls to get together and have lifelong friendships.”
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Senior Gena Leak said line dancing is a perfect addition to her life.
“It is great exercise and you don’t even know you’re exercising,” she said.
Senior Barbara Davis said she is so glad she started.
“I’ve been dancing here for just three months and I’ve had a drastic reduction in my blood pressure,” Davis said. “It’s always been high but now it is below normal. My hips usually bother me, but my hips are doing better. The exercise is really good for you and it is so much fun.”
National Council on Aging and the National Institute of Senior Centers focus on September as National Senior Center Month to show how centers are “strengthening community connections” and reducing social isolation.
Ravalli County Council on Aging Executive Director Cathy Orr said senior centers are vital to the health and well-being of the community.
“They provide support, information, and opportunities to improve the lives of seniors in our community as they age,” Orr said. “A survey of Ravalli County adults, age 55 and up, shows some people have social isolation and mental health concerns. We believe that senior centers with the social activities, meals, and camaraderie, can provide the connectiveness that people are seeking.”
She said that with an aging population and more people moving into the area, senior centers are important for meeting needs.
“How wonderful to have gathering places in our communities to provide social interaction and access information about crucial services,” Orr said.
The National Council on Aging website says, “We believe every person deserves to age well. Since 1950, we've been improving the lives of millions of older adults. Learn about the work we do, the people we serve, and why equitable aging matters now more than ever.”
In the Bitterroot Valley there are three centers and two clubs that meet regularly — Hamilton Senior Center, 820 N. 4th St. in Hamilton, with President Connie Litvin; Stevensville Senior Center, 100 Mission St. in Stevensville, with President Judy Weber; Victor Senior Center, 246 5th St. in Victor, with President Albert Fawcett; the Silver Tops Senior Citizens Club, which meets in the Darby Clubhouse; and the Golden Age Senior Citizen Club, 727 S. 5th St. in Hamilton.
The Hamilton Senior Center opens each day at 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Music starts at 11:15 a.m. on those days and music coordinator Jean Roberts said the music is a standard offering.
“Anybody that wants to play music is welcome to work with us,” Roberts said. “Maybe they haven’t played for years, but we welcome them. The focus of our music is to bring back a lot of memories and share our love of music. We want people to have music in their lives, always. It is essential.”
Musicians are welcome to play guitars, banjo, accordions, piano, mandolin, flute, harmonicas and sing vocals. Any wholesome entertainment, like plays or skits, is welcome.
At HSC, lunch is served 11:45 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. for $4. Seniors play Hand & Foot (a type of Canasta) after lunch on Mondays in the Bitterroot Room. Other activities include pinochle, bridge, ping-pong, a flea market (Sept. – May) and they’re working to add bingo.
“You don’t have to be a member of the senior center to participate,” Litvin said. “Membership helps supports us but you can just come. We do rent out our facility for baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings, church pot-lucks, memorials, Toastmasters meetings and family reunions.”
The HSC has several large rooms, a commercial kitchen, a stage and a sound system.
“Rental of facilities is how we support the senior center,” Litvin said. “We do have small activity fees to help out and keep the doors open. We’re all volunteers except the cooks — we offer good, balanced meals. The custodian is paid through the Easter Seals Goodwill.”
She said keeping the Hamilton Senior Center open is important to offer connections.
“Seniors love to get together and they love to visit,” Litvin said. “The lunch is good, and at a good price but we’ve always felt people come for friendship. It is just someone to talk to, you don’t have to have them over to your house. We’ve got a lot of activities and we’re not expensive. The community needs it.”
She said everyone is welcome to come to the meals and events.
“You can be age 5 — it is open to everybody,” Litvin said.
Paying the annual membership fee helps support the center. There are over 200 members on the roster and facility rentals and sponsors of the newsletter keep the center solvent. The monthly newsletter lists the menu, sponsors and activities.
The Hamilton Senior Center has had recent facility improvements and offers plenty of parking and easy access.
Senior Dorothy Holmberg said when she comes to the HSC it isn’t just to eat.
“It is to be with my friends,” she said.
At the south end of Hamilton, the Golden Age Senior Citizen Club offers pinochle every Wednesday, and light group exercise on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for small fees.
Victor Senior Center President Albert Fawcett said the center there is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for meals, connecting and bingo.
“Bingo is a real big deal here,” he said. “People can find out about our activities through the Council on Aging website because we don’t have a website here. We share our information through word of mouth and posters. Word gets out and we get people from Stevensville, Florence and all over the valley.”
He said just before COVID they purchased a $2,500 bingo machine that is “now going strong.”
“Our meals have everything: a salad bar, main meal, dessert and something to drink for $3.50,” Fawcett said. “You can’t get a lunch for $3.50 anymore — oh, yes, you can at the Victor Senior Center.”
He said the key reason to have a center is interaction.
“It gives people a good place to come and get out of the house,” Fawcett said. “Maybe people have lost their spouses. This gives them a place to come socialize rather than just sit around their house. Come, have a good meal and take the stress off.”
He said the Council on Aging uses the kitchen in the Victor Senior Center and pays rent.
“The Council on Aging has just been awesome for the centers, I just can’t say enough good about them,” Fawcett said. “We have their brochures, pamphlets and paperwork for the resources they offer. So, if you need help with your power bill or Meals on Wheels, pick that information up.”