Blaine Senior Center reaches major milestone

‘Golden Anniversary Hoedown’ to take place from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, August 11

By Stefanie Donahue

The Blaine Senior Center, a popular hub for residents and visitors, is turning 50.

To celebrate its legacy in the community, senior center staff and volunteers are hosting a Golden Anniversary Hoedown from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 11 at the Blaine Senior Center, 763 G Street.

The special event will feature a barbecue dinner, beer garden and live music.

Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon, Whatcom County Parks and Recreation director Michael McFarlane and Betty Granlund, the daughter of late Blaine Senior Center co-founding member Evelyn Yarbrough, will briefly speak at the event.

“The hoedown is a way for the senior center to give back,” director Kathy Sitker said. “It’s our way of saying ‘thank you.’”

Mayor John Nolan and Whatcom County commissioner Terry Unger were among the handful of dignitaries who attended a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the original Blaine Senior Center in October 1974. Photo courtesy of the Blaine Senior Center

History

The creation of the Blaine Senior Center dates back to 1968, when a band of local seniors formed Young at Heart, Sitker said. The group met regularly at the former Blaine Lutheran Church before breaking ground on a facility of their own at 763 G Street in October 1974.

Then city mayor John Nolan and Whatcom County commissioner Terry Unger were among the handful of local dignitaries who attended the ceremony.

The $93,000, multi-use building was officially dedicated in May 1975, Sitker said.

Over the decades that followed, the Blaine Senior Center became such a hit among residents it couldn’t keep up with demand.

In a chronicle written about the early days of the senior center, Yarbrough wrote, “The original Blaine Senior Center was a nice little building designed for a city that would not grow, but always stay the same. But things started to change. More people were living longer and a growing number of Blaine seniors were anxious to have more activities, classes and social interaction.”

Serious talks about building a new, larger senior center started in the late 1980s and were proceeded by a bond that was passed by voters in 1991. Construction on the more than $1 million facility concluded in 1994.

In 2003, the Blaine Senior Center underwent a series of taxpayer funded upgrades, including the installation of a gym, library and pool room, Sitker said.

Currently owned by the city, the senior center’s latest remodel took place in 2016 and included the construction of a 5,000-square-foot indoor recreation area for use by the community, including Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2, the Blaine Boys & Girls Club and the Blaine Senior Center.

The present

Today more than 650 people are enrolled as members at the Blaine Senior Center.

“And we’re signing up new people every day,” said Sitker, who was hired as director in September 2016.

The mission of the Blaine Senior Center hasn’t changed, she said. To date, it still provides accessible facilities, recreational opportunities and affordable meals to the community. More importantly, she said, it gives seniors the chance to stay engaged.

“You can’t age and be home by yourself,” she said. “You have to be around other people.”

Classes that teach meditation and stretching techniques have become very popular among members, board president Toni Blakely said. Other activities, such as line dancing, bocce ball and card games are also a big hit.

The senior center has also made an effort to address the interests of its members, Sitker said.

In July, it hosted its first-ever workshop about cannabis. More than 25 people attended to listen to talks led by state-certified medical cannabis consultant Nancy Southern, First Amendment attorney Mike Hiestand and Dank of America owner Don Hartleben.

“It’s a conversation that people have to have,” Sitker said. “People have questions.”

Throughout the year, fitness fiends make use of the senior center’s gym, which contains a variety of fitness equipment, including the recently-acquired NuStep recumbent cross-trainer. Classes such as Tai Chi, ZUMBA and gentle yoga are also offered either at the gym or the indoor recreation area next door with support from Blaine Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2.

Members can also find a shoulder to lean on at regular support groups, including those that focus on maintaining a healthy weight or others geared toward individuals who are afflicted by memory loss.

Daily meals are another popular attraction. Provided by the Bellingham-based Meals on Wheels and More program, a variety of healthy dishes are served to members and non-members between 11:30 and 12:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday for $7. Individuals who are age 60 and above, or who meet other eligibility requirements, can pay by donation.

With so much to do, Blakely said, “It doesn’t take very long for people to get to know everyone around here.”

From l.: Blaine Senior Center member Mick Blakely, board president Toni Blakely, director Kathy Sitker and co-founding member Elinor Blakely. Photo by Stefanie Donahue

The future

With membership on the rise, Sitker said she sees the role of the Blaine Senior Center changing within the next 5-10 years.

“The number of boomers retiring is huge and it’s a tsunami,” she said. “We’ve really got to figure out what we want,” whether that be catering to just seniors or to all age groups. Intergenerational centers are cropping up across the nation, she said.

There’s also an increasing need for services in north Whatcom County, she said, citing the impending closure of Northwest Adult Day Health and Wellness Center in Lynden. The adult day health program opened three years ago and provided support to caregivers and their patients.

“They have to have a place to go,” Sitker said. At the senior center, she added, “We are not medical professionals.”

Despite that setback, she’s eager for Unity Care NW to break ground on a new facility at 6060 Portal Way in 2019. “It’s a big deal,” she said.

In the short term, staff are focused on raising money to install a wheelchair lift for the stage located at the center of the building, she said. Based on her experience with members, she’s not worried about raising the money.

“The community steps up,” she said. “We’re very grateful for that.”

Guests of the upcoming Golden Anniversary Hoedown are asked to RSVP by calling 360/332-8040.

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