The Christmas spirit isn’t holding off for anyone, and in 65-degree weather on a sunny December Saturday afternoon, southwest Kansas families got the big snowball rolling with what may be the first annual Christmas Family Fun Day at the Senior Center of Finney County.
The event drew high-profile guests such as Mr. and Mrs. Claus and raised money through raffle tickets, refreshments and games for a new senior center sign intended to give more details about the organization's events.
Senior Center Director Hilary Whiteley said the fundraiser also doubles as an opportunity for many people to see the senior center for the first time. With spacious hardwood floors and high ceilings, the former grocery store with lettering that reads “Thanks for Shopping” above the main entrance has made for a space where senior citizens can make friends, exercise and grab an inexpensive meal on an almost daily basis.
After glimpsing the initial success of the two-year event, which had an initial turnout of at least 50 people, Whiteley said Christmas Family Fun Day might carry on as a senior center Christmas tradition.
"Ideally, we would like to make it a regular thing," she said. "It could become something that families can be looking forward to throughout the year and know that we'll have an event here."
An ambient chorus of gleefully chirping children sipping hot chocolate, munching funnel cake, playing games and catching a photo with our local Santa celebrities showed that the senior center isn’t a place reserved for older adults, either. And, if anything, more young people are needed to keep it going.
Sue Knight, a senior center volunteer and president of the Finney County Senior Citizens Association, said the center has a lot to offer people “if they would just come.”
Knight, 74, oversees the dances at the center every Wednesday night, where she says about 40 to 60 people show up to get down at an event almost completely sustained by “a lot” of volunteers. She said she got involved when she was around 60 because, “I just like to dance.” And she’s not the only senior citizen who loves to cut loose. She says two or three people in their 90s turn up to the Wednesday night dances to celebrate life — a cause for celebration in and of itself.
“Just to see them come down and get involved is unreal,” Knight said. “All those people come down, and they’ll dance almost every dance. That ought to tell some of these younger people what they’re missing.”
But on Saturday, people of all ages were enjoying each other’s company at the center in the spirit of Christmas. Knight had kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and all manner of other relatives congregating around her throughout the festivities as she stayed seated in festive garb and watched the children play.
The sight of that family togetherness warmed the heart of Wanda De La Rosa, a volunteer at the senior center whose family won’t be able to make it to town until Christmas proper.
“I just think the senior center is a viable community organization,” she said. “We have people who come in here and do their exercises and play cards and play games and come down here every day for their meal. Some of them, maybe it’s the only meal they’re going to get through the day. I think the senior center is vital to our community.”
De La Rosa said Christmas has changed for her as she as progressed further into her senior years.
“It’s calmed down a lot,” she says with a laugh, explaining that her children are all grown with kids of their own, and the rush of the holiday season has been passed on to them.
People like Knight and De La Rosa in their 70s and 80s make up the bulk of the membership volunteer presence at the senior center, but Knight says it’s the younger people who need to get more involved to keep the facility going. And when she says younger, she’s not talking 20s and 30s. She means 60s — “middle-aged.”
Marisela Deleon, 52, was visiting the senior center for the first time on Saturday with her family. A resident of Lakin, Deleon decided to meet with her daughter, Amanda Sanchez, when she came into town to “spend some time together with everybody.”
Sanchez said the event was a success for her kids, and Deleon, who has 10 grandchildren, said she would make the trip over to the senior center from Lakin again to attend more family-oriented events like Christmas Family Fun Day.
“You don’t really have to be a certain age to be able to come to the senior center,” Deleon said. “It’s just nice to be able to associate with other people. Sometimes it’s nice to be around older people. They have a lot of good stories, a lot of good wisdom.”
As a grandmother, Deleon said Christmas for her is “so busy that you don’t have time to scratch your head, and that’s no lie.”
Still, she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“Even being 52, you never know how long you have to spend with your family, so as much time as you can spend with them, it’s good,” she said.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.