- Written by Jessica Riel
- Published: 17 March 2017
The Bernardston Senior Center is located in the former Powers Institute, a school built in 1857 that closed a century later in 1957. Shirley (Tyler) Tuttle, age 80, graduated from that school as an 18-year-old “senior” in 1956 and returned decades later as a “septuagenarian” senior. She remembers what the space looked like before it was remodeled. “The kitchen was the typing room,” she says, and, pointing toward the entrance, “the bathrooms were the principal’s office.” Upstairs housed the schoolrooms for the seventh and eighth grade students, she recalls, the main room held the eleventh and twelfth graders, and the ninth and tenth grade students learned their lessons in what is now the dining room. In that room, Shirley now volunteers on Tuesdays and Fridays, helping to prepare for the lunchtime meals by doing “anything that needs to be done,” she says, such as setting up the tables, putting out desserts, and wrapping bread.
On this particular day in February, the ROMEOs (Retired Old Musicians Entertaining Others) are performing, and the senior center attendees are saying a fond farewell to 95-year-old Rod Krug, a ROMEO himself, as he prepares to leave for a new life in Florida. “It’s made my days much better by coming here,” he says. Rod lost his companion of 23 years, Arlene Senser, over the winter holidays. The two were loyal attendees and supporters of the center – “I worked down in the basement [on carpentry projects]; she worked up here” – and they helped get the Powers Institute in good shape when it opened to house the senior center. “We shopped all over for tablecloths,” he says, gesturing to the tables around the room. “Place came alive after a while. It gave you a good feeling all the time.”
Roberta O’Keefe is 96. For fifteen years, she has been coming to the Bernardston Senior Center at least once a week, usually more often, and she stays for lunch. Though she still cooks for herself, she enjoys the congregate meals for seniors. “On the whole, they’re very good,” she says of the meals, adding that she appreciates the low-salt content, good portions, and friendships she has formed here. “It’s so helpful to go be with other people,” says Roberta. “They’re like your family. This keeps you really in touch with the world.”
The broccoli bake, a quiche-like casserole with egg, broccoli, and cheese, is well-loved by Roberta and the other attendees. Ellen Spring, the dining center manager, counts it as one of her favorites, too. Ellen has been serving seniors in her role for two years. “The people are just fantastic,” she says.
Nora Bixby, a retired nurse, feels that the meals are nutritious and well-balanced. She comes for lunch about three times a week. As a former Meals on Wheels volunteer driver and Citizens Advisory Board alternate member, she understands the importance of the Nutrition Program at LifePath, which operates the dining centers as well as the Meals on Wheels program. Both programs offer more than a meal – they give elders a chance to be social with their neighbors or a friendly driver. “Some seniors who don’t come here, the seniors who are at home – they’re very isolated,” she says, but having a friendly driver check in on them while delivering a hot meal helps to enhance their wellness.
“The real strength of the meals program is the fact that you have Meals on Wheels going to homes when people are less able to go to congregate meals,” says Dianne Cornwell, the council on aging director in Bernardston. She appreciates the “wonderful partnership” between councils on aging with limited resources and LifePath.
If you’d like to come by for a lunchtime meal at the Bernardston Senior Center, Mondays through Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., call Ellen at (413) 648-5319 one serving day in advance to reserve your spot.
People age 60 and older and their spouse of any age are welcome to attend. There are no financial eligibility requirements or cost for the meal, though voluntary donations are accepted. You do not have to live in the community where you dine.
To inquire about a senior luncheon club or dining center in your area, contact the Nutrition Program: Contact us. Read more about the program here, find menus here, and find a complete listing of locations here.