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Prime Time: Senior Center members burn the mortgage

Harry Holand is happy as he lights a match to the mortgage papers for the Senor Citizen Center building during a ceremony at the Senior Center, while the other members of the original finance committee watch. From left are Herb Oebser, May Steele, Ada & Harry Holand, Irene Oebser, Dorothy Chadwick and Lyle Caughey. Submitted Photo

All I know is I would have felt mighty proud to be a member of the Senior Center back in the '80s. The energy, enthusiasm and great work ethic that these volunteers had was extraordinary to say the least! By 1983, the much-needed building renovation was completed and several new senior programs had been added.

Volunteers continued to hold numerous fundraising projects to keep up with the $1,000 a month mortgage payments and other bills. Actually it was a pretty shaky time money wise. However, when the going got really tough, several organizations came to the rescue. I found a news article which read, "At a time when we were really worried about paying our bills and wondering if we could even keep the doors open, we received generous donations from the VFW, American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, AARP and other organizations, as well as individuals."

But get a load of this! Between the senior fundraising efforts and the generous donations, not only were they able to keep the doors open but, during the last three months of 1986, they were able to pay an extra $18,000 on the mortgage. And would you believe that this was just enough cash to pay off the rest of the mortgage? What an accomplishment - in six short years the seniors owned their first senior center free and clear. Needless to say this called for a celebration of the highest order. A news article from the February issue of the "Senior Independent" publication (incidentally written by Henrietta Britton) reads, "Volunteers at a brunch in their honor, witnessed the burning of the mortgage for the Bemidji Senior Citizen Center on Monday, Jan. 12, 1989. Participating in the ceremony were members of the original finance committee who were still available to see their dream come true. Holding the mortgage was Ada Holand who had had this dream since 1961. Applying the match was Harry Holand." The mortgage went up in smoke! YA HOO!

Now wouldn't you think those senior volunteers could finally lighten up a little bit on the work and just try to enjoy their digs for a little while at least? But no way! This was far from the end of the dream. Additional improvements such as lowering the ceilings and remodeling the office and kitchen areas were needed in order to make the place more usable for larger groups of people. The last statement in a news article read, "The volunteers do not plan to stop working but plan to continue their efforts to make these new goals a reality!" And work they did! And it paid off in one way. In September 1988, more than 85 senior center volunteers who helped keep the senior center alive and running were honored at an appreciation dinner held at First Lutheran Church. Walter Fenske, vice-president of the governing board of the senior center, thanked the volunteers for a job well done. Bill Britton, co-director of the center, thanked the group for contributing more than 10,000 hours of work at an estimated total value of more than $60,000. He also thanked Jean Thorne, part-time coordinator, for work above and beyond the line of duty.

So the '80s ended up on a pretty positive note. A newspaper article titled "Sr. Center in good Shape after hard pull in '89" reads, "More than 65 card-carrying members of the Beltrami County Sr. Citizens Center attended the 4th Annual Meeting, held Sept. 26 in the center's main meeting room. President Walter Fenske presided at the lively session which lasted almost 3 hours as many reports of department heads and officers of the center made their presentations. Much work has been done at the Center in the last year, and Henrietta Britton reported the finances to be in a good state of affairs. She also presented a budget for the needs of next year 's activities."

So from the sounds of it, things were going very well. But not well enough to suit the likes of these seniors! They could never be OK with things just the way they were. They were always thinking outside the box. They continued to dream. They would find a way to make their center even bigger and better!

Watch for their next exciting adventure in the final chapter of the senior center saga.

In 1985, Harry Holand and Ann Stennes, a couple of pioneer workers who helped get the senior center off the ground, were honored at the Beltrami County Fair and then went on to be honored at the Minnesota State Fair. These two people volunteered in many capacities. Ann Stennes was a great lady and an extraordinary volunteer. She was often heard to say "If you think you have a lot to do when you're younger, wait until you retire."

The Happy Wanderers is a musical group of three women who have been performing and entertaining in this area for a very long time. In fact according to Mavis Winger, guitar player and leader of the group, "We started way back in the '80s and we may very well have been the first musical entertainment at 421 Beltrami. Ada Holand or Carl Wolfe would call us and ask us to sing during the lunch hour."

She said Harry Holand's brother had written a song and she remembers singing it at Christmas. Mavis said there were very few singing groups at that time and certainly no female groups.

"We were invited to sing all over - even Minneapolis." Mavis learned guitar at the age of 6, and she and her friends learned songs by listening to records. There were three members in the original group. Two members of the original group still work together, Ardell Lewis and Mavis Winger. The third member, Beverly Petrie, died in 1998. Rose Erickson now is the third member of the group.

Ann Daley and Pat Kroeplin are Paul Bunyan Senior Activity Center volunteers.