Program moves on without government sponsorship
More than 20 retirees will gather for a noon meal on Thursday, May 8, at the Columbus Senior Center. Those who feel like arriving early will find the doors of their center on the east end of Columbus City Hall open as early as 9 a.m. so they can play dominoes or card games.
When the participants sit to catch up with friends over a cup of coffee, they continue traditions that seniors have enjoyed in Columbus for more than 30 years.
But major changes have come recently, as the city of Columbus and the senior center have gone separate ways. Changes in financing and personnel followed, yet the center’s leaders say they are content with what is new.
Mary Ann Hoyt is among the center’s active seniors today, but in the early 1980s she was a young adult who was well-known by many in the township of Columbus for her service on the park board and as a town treasurer and administrator.
Because of her prominent role, Hoyt was asked to help to establish a senior program. She agreed, and in 1982 the town received a federal grant, issued by Anoka County, to plant roots for the activities that seniors are enjoying today.
The initial small circle of women has grown to a group of about 50 core members, including couples and singles.
The seniors needed organizational assistance early on, and the senior center became a function of town and later Columbus city government.
That affiliation ended April 9, when the City Council approved a lease agreement for the senior center. Minutes from the meeting state: “The Senior Center was given the opportunity to be a city department or become an independent entity; they chose to become an independent entity. The Senior Center Board reviewed the lease and they are in agreement with it.”
The senior program, operating with 501(c)(3) status, continues to share proceeds the city receives from its arrangement with Running Aces Harness Park (the city distributes other shares for its police and fire services). However, the city, now acting as landlord, has set annual rent for the center equal to the share of race track proceeds.
Previously the city reserved the senior program’s share to cover utility expenses that were proportionate to the center’s use, said Joyce Guttsen, new president of the senior center board. Now the center will be billed for utilities, and a new contract requires the center to also pay 25 percent of septic service and trash removal costs from the property.
The city in April terminated the position of the senior center coordinator whom it hired nine years ago to run the kitchen and other services, board members said. The move came with the seniors’ agreement to take over management of their program, but board members said their legal counsel advised it would not be cost-effective for them to cover expenses for a coordinator.
The seniors are also no longer tasked with providing the center’s groceries for their lunches. They have contracted with Carly’s Café, of Forest Lake, to cater meals on the center’s activity days, Tuesday and Thursday.
Seniors are paying the same cost per meal as they did before the changes.
The senior program has hired a part-time employee for cleaning and maintenance duties.
Members look forward to continuing special events in the center, including their chili feed and craft show during the city’s Fall Festival, along with Sunday pancake breakfasts served by the Columbus Lions Club from September through May.
The senior program, with extra responsibility, reserves the right to rent the hall to private parties. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and activities and meals are open to all interested seniors, not only those living in Columbus. The board asks only that guests interested in dining at a noon meal provide notice at least 24 hours in advance to either Guttsen, at 651-464-2905, or club Treasurer Sherry Organ, at 651-271-3970.
Regulars are looking forward to their next cup of coffee with a stronger sense of ownership.
“It was a challenge for us, as seniors, to prove we could do something like this,” Organ said.
“We did this all in good faith for the best of the club,” Guttsen said.
“For the best of the community,” Hoyt added.