Decades of dreams: Silverton’s senior center becomes a reality

July 2010 Posted in Community

By Linda Whitmore

Although Ruth Cock wasn’t there back when Silverton’s senior services started, she’s been associated with those who were. And her own leadership spans 30 years.

She says with a laugh she’s called “The Historian.”

Silverton’s development of programs for senior citizens led the way in the state, and now, a half-century later, a long-dreamed of facility comes to fruition. Success begins with a seminal idea and are realized through hard work, and such it is with the Silverton Area Seniors Center.

Cock tells the story of its beginning. “Silverton had a gentleman named Harry Vetter, who – I think it was in the late ’50s or early ’60s – went on a trip and saw a senior center serving meals. Nobody in Oregon was serving meals.”

Vetter picked up the idea for Silverton and ran with it. He did research, and “found out that the federal government, under the Older Americans Act, would provide money if we would serve meals to senior citizens, including Meals on Wheels,” Cock said.

“Harry wrote the bill and turned it in to his state senator. It was sent to the House and it passed faster than any other bill – I think it took four days. They didn’t even send it to committee, they just passed it.”

Having a senior meals program, it seemed, “just made sense,” Cock said. “Harry came back to Silverton and started the first senior meal program in the state. It included Meals on Wheels.”

At first participants went to Eugene Field School and ate their hot meals there after the children had their lunches. Then the program moved to the St. Paul’s Catholic Church meeting hall.

Thirty years ago, Cock took over leadership of the noon meals program and Meals on Wheels.

“In 1980 when I became coordinator, Harry said we need a senior center,” she said. Vetter had been trying to organize one for years without success. “He said he couldn’t do it anymore.”

Vetter stayed on in an advisory capacity and showed Cock how to put on tours. “We’ve done a lot of those – and exercise programs, things we could do on the side.” Although not in a leadership role, Vetter stayed active, providing Cock with incentive and holding a position on the board. Another trustee was Bessie Murphy. “She was my right hand man for 15 maybe 20 years,” Cock said. “We tried everything to get a senior center.”

Sometimes they tried to link with other community projects such as a recreation center, even a school, to get funded.

A few years back, on hearing the Masonic Hall was seldom used, they inquired about renting the space and the proposal was accepted. More people came for noon meals and the number of activities expanded. But it wasn’t an ideal situation. The dream of a place of their own continued.

While some cities have senior centers as part of parks and recreation departments or other entities, “we were private, so getting grants was nearly impossible.”

The Senior Citizens Foundation broke through these barriers a couple of years ago when City Manager Bryan Cosgrove told of the possibility of getting a block grant.

“It took a long time to apply and process,” Cock said.

Ray Hunter, past board president who spearheaded the building project’s planning and execution, said the Senior Center Foundation got the $800,000 block grant, and $400,000 stimulus money.

But that wasn’t enough.

About two years ago the Ford Family Foundation granted $100,000, and offered another $100,000 if the local community could raise a matching amount within a year, Hunter explained.

A number of fundraising efforts took place, but at the eleventh month they were still substantially short.

“We had to raise $30,000 in 30 days,” Cock said. The community rallied. “Every day I’d go to the mailbox and find three, four thousand; one day there was $17,000.”

The result of the month-long whirlwind fundraising came to $157,000, Hunter said.

All those who worked diligently to reach the goal give great thanks to the community for its support. “When they could see it was going to be real, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon. It just got more and more exciting,” Cock said.

There was a time, Cock said, when “You could have given me a barn as long as it had windows and room dividers I’d be happy – now I’m just over the moon!” She has one regret though. “It’s really a shame. There are about 10 senior citizens that worked really hard on this that aren’t here any more. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here.”

Hunter, too, is thrilled at having the new senior center. “I can’t wait,” he said just days before the opening. “A lot of people said it’s really gone quickly, but for the people who started doing it, and have been working hard for it, it doesn’t seem quick.”

Hunter recently stepped down from the position of board president, but he’s not resting on his laurels. He’s got another project in mind – a senior living facility. “I’m going to try anyway,” he said.

Public invited to July 28 opening of Silverton Area Seniors Center

The Silverton Area Seniors Center opens with a grand “ta-dah!” and joyful presentations July 28, 3 to 8 p.m. at the new facility, 115 Westfield Ave.

“There will be speechifying by dignitaries,” board president Dave Ellis joked, and displays of the programs and services that will be offered.

Ruth Cock, former director of senior meal services, explained, “We will cut the ribbon and have introduction of city officials. The new coordinator will be introduced.” She said former board president Ray Hunter will speak. “He got the grant and he’s followed this through for the past three years.” And she’ll say a few words, too, since she’s considered the organization’s historian.

When the doors open, visitors can tour the facility and talk with representatives of services and program. “There will be an exercise teacher, travel agents to talk about future tours, Meals on Wheels, and of course, volunteer sign ups,” Cock said. “I won’t tell you anything else, because the rest of it is a surprise.”

The day will includes the last opportunity to obtain a lifetime membership. Annual memberships are $12 but anyone can participate without cost.

The opening day will be highlighted with music and light refreshments. A guitarist and pianist will play and the Silvertones will give a vocal performance. Roth’s Market has donated bottled water and cookies and Safeway is providing cake, coffee and lemonade.

“Ferguson’s Fragrant Nursery donated 15 gorgeous hanging flower baskets so we can decorate,” Cock said.

The floral decoration might avert visitors’ eyes from the floor, where there might be a problem.

“We had a couple of interesting glitches,” Ellis said. One of the last things to be installed is the flooring.

“The outfit that sent the carpet sent square feet instead of square yards.” With no more available for three weeks, board members are considering alternatives.

Cock said that anyone who’s built a house knows that these things happen, but she’s been carrying a carpet sample with her to match. “It’s OK to get another carpet, but it has to be in the same color,” she said.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.