The Hillsboro Senior Center has a new director. Mary Dudley accepted the position in March, joking that it was the first job application she had filled out since she was 18.
“I went on the (Senior Center) board in February and read Karly Winter’s resignation as director at that first meeting,” she said.
With Winter’s departure, Dudley decided to apply for the position and it worked out for her—she got the job.
“I am still learning as I go,” Dudley said. “I feel like it’s a ministry and therapy for me.”
One of her goals is to have twice as many people attending the center by next year.
In trying to reach that objective, she knows other resources are available to help.
“We have eight drivers for our Meals on Wheels program and we serve between 11 to 18 lunches,” she said.
The average lunch attendance at the center is in the high 30s or low 40s.
“If not for the volunteers,” Dudley said, “our center would close down.”
Area Agency on Aging
Julie Govert Walter, executive director of North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging in Manhattan, oversees all senior centers in Marion County and 17 other counties.
When it comes to senior centers, Marion County was among only five counties in the nation to receive a grant from the Ford Foundation to establish centers in 1960-61.
“Marion County has a long, long history of aging services,” Walter said. “It pre-dates the passage of the Older American Act in 1965,” Walter said.
The Older Americans Act may have been passed in 1965, but it wouldn’t be until 1973 that Congress allocated money to the centers for meals, she said.
The money was for senior nutrition programs, but the idea was in furthering community spirit and helping seniors avoid isolation.
“I think isolation causes disease, poor health and that will kill quicker than cancer,” she said. “Depression and other consequences have a direct impact on one’s health.”
What is a senior center?
Senior centers, Walter said, are service hubs to connect people.
When someone is shut-in for whatever reason, the home-delivered meal program is an example of how seniors can connect.
“A (senior) center creates places where senior citizens can come and enjoy a good meal and enjoy fellowship, but also are for those younger who can volunteer.”
Walter pointed out that seniors are needful, but that the need is for them to be engaged and active in their communities throughout those retirement years.
“For some, retirement sounds nice, but it can be as oppressive as some jobs,” she said.
Another problem is retired seniors might lose purpose or an identification with work that is part of this society.
“Adjustments are needed,” she said.
How do centers stay open?
Senior centers throughout the nation have ups and downs, Walter said.
The national network has 655 centers and the Area Agency on Aging coordinates on a regional approach.
“Senior centers have managers and cooks throughout the region (North Central-Flint Hills), and of course Marion County is the backbone of success,” she said.
The way the Area Agency on Aging interacts with centers is by paying and providing “raw” eligible foods, according to federal standards.
“We also pay base wage, which means federal minimum wage, to a cook and manager,” she said.
The wage is based on the number of meals served, kitchen staff at the centers and number of hours.
“Our agency pays basically a token amount for assistance,” Walter said. “(The pay is) really a usage amount—we simply don’t have resources.”
In other words, the agency says it will do these things to include food costs and administration and management of the program for a base wage.
In turn, the agency says that senior center staff will take care of their building, upkeep, insurance and other related bills.
“Each center has challenges,” she said.
Walter said Hillsboro has met its obligations in unique ways.
One way includes making travel opportunities available.
The next travel chance is to the Mennonite Relief Sale, April 17-18 at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson. If interested, call Dudley.
It’s a once a year opportunity, said Ruth Penner, long-time center volunteer.
Hillsboro a ‘bright spot’
Walter said it’s frustrating that money from the Older Americans Act, which goes back to Area Agency on Aging regions, has not increased in a significant way since its inception.
Sometimes, Walter said, she thinks Washington forgets to appropriate additional money we need to keep up with nutrition programs.
“The Older Americans Act is representative of geographic diversity,” she said.
“It’s not a cookie cutter approach to get something done.”
Walter said that if someone were to call McPherson or the Northwest Kansas regional office, their grassroots efforts differ from those in Hillsboro.
“Hillsboro has a wonderful tradition of volunteerism and community support for their senior center,” she said.
“(Hillsboro) is a bright spot on our map with great things going on and the quality of caring (is) evident,” she said.
“We have been blessed with wonderful staff to promote centers,” Walter said about all of Marion County.
Four decades in real estate
Born in Chase County, the new Hillsboro Senior Center director spent 40 years as co-owner and operator of Dudley Real Estate in Wichita.
Finding herself alone in Wichita after getting out of the real estate business, she decided to find a smaller place to retire.
She also had certain criteria while searching for just the right community.
Dudley said she was looking for a town small enough so she could be acquainted with everyone and a place with a four-year college so that she could attend sporting, drama or music events.
While driving in from the south on the 13-mile road almost one year ago, Dudley said she began to feel at home.
It was then that she decided Hillsboro met the criteria and would become her new home.
Best kept secret
Many senior center visitors and volunteers believe Hillsboro’s facility is “the best kept secret on Main Street.”
The cost of lunch is $4.50 for those under 60 and over 60, the cost is $2.75.
The center is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Activities and menus can be found on page 2 under the heading, Senior Scribbles.
“A lot of people come for what’s on the menu and everyone is welcome,” Dudley said.
Meal reservations; however, must be called in by 9 a.m. the day of the meal.
For more information about the senior center, lunches or programs, call Dudley at 620-947-2304 or stop by at 212 N. Main St.