The Garden City Telegram

The art of socializing

Brad Nading/Telegram     Merlene Wampler uses a brush to create highlights in a watercolor painting Thursday during a painting class at the Senior Center of Finney County.
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Senior Center of Finney County creates atmosphere for friends and artists.


A weekly Thursday art class at the Senior Center of Finney County is about much more than art. It's more of a social club for about a half-dozen women.

Irene Unruh, who retired after a 46-year career as a nurse at St. Catherine Hospital, said art helps the group stay active. She teaches the class and tries to challenge the other ladies with something different each week.

"I'm supposed to be their teacher, but I don't have any control," Unruh said as her students laughed.

"Some of us are more docile than others," Gail Traugott said.

"We gotta come here cause we gotta go to lunch," quipped Margaret Besthorn, a former facilities manager at Fidelity State Bank who retired in 1988.

Traugott explained that the group usually goes to lunch together after the class.

Unruh, who said she's basically self-taught as an artist, said Jack Kempton used to teach the class and asked Unruh to help for a period of time before turning it over to her completely.

"Some of these gals were in his class longer than I was," she said.

"That's because it takes us longer to learn," Besthorn said.

When asked why they enjoyed getting together, Merlene Wampler said, "Oh my goodness. Therapy, therapy, therapy."

"It's kind of like when women get together and quilt," Traugott said.

Traugott, who owns an Internet business with her husband, said she met Unruh at Art in the Park three years ago and started coming to the weekly class at the senior center two years ago.

"And I love it," she said.

When Traugott was asked what she enjoys, Wampler whispered, "Gossip," prompting another eruption of laughter.

Traugott said she enjoys dipping into her creative side and being able to express herself.

"All us ladies encourage each other, and that's really important," she said.

Wampler, who owns land and farms and also works part time for Price and Sons Funeral Home, said she's the quiet one of the group, though her friends immediately begged to differ.

"I've retired a number of times, but it never stuck," she said.

"Merlene keeps us going," Unruh said. "If things get quiet, she's got something to say. And it doesn't take long for you to see why I don't have control of the class."

Thursday's class, which also included Jane Embree and Betty Dague, was using different color palettes that it doesn't normally use. Unruh said as artists, they tend to get into a pattern of the colors they like to use. Some like earth tones, others like bright colors.

Unruh said she is strict with her grades.

"Yeah. They all pass," she said. "We're just here for fun. Like Gail said, we all help each other."community,