ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The new director of the Goessel Senior Center is an energetic senior who decided to accept the position vacated by Ruth Ann Penner.
“I realized in my own life there was a vacuum at this point that needed to be filled with something,” said Mary Graber. “I probably have more energy than I need right now. So I applied for the job.”
Graber’s husband died about a year ago, creating a turn in the direction of her life.
“My days were very full, and I was very active,” she said. “That discontinued with his death.”
After interviewing with a representative from the North Central Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, Graber accepted the position and began her duties July 1.
“Basically, Ruth Ann helped me get going,” Graber said. “Alice Base was very instrumental in helping me get started. She often filled in for Ruth Ann.”
Graber was born in Freeman, S.D. After graduating from high school, she attended Tabor College in Hillsboro, Bethel College in North Newton and the University of Chicago.
She graduated from South Dakota State University in 1970 with a degree in home economics.
She and her husband moved to rural Goessel in 1978 and raised a family that grew to six children and 16 grandchildren.
She taught family and consumer sciences at Goessel for 17 years. In the late 1980s, she earned a master’s degree in secondary-school counseling at Emporia State University.
“For a few years, I was both a family and consumer sciences teacher and a counselor at Goessel,” Graber said.
“After I retired in 1995, I did a lot of substitute teaching. But my husband was ill, and we spent a lot of time going to doctors.”
At the Senior Center, Graber typically begins her five-days-a-week job at 9 a.m. and leaves about 1 p.m.
“I like to be here at 9 a.m., because that’s when the people start coming in to have coffee,” Graber said. “And I like to help Carol (Bennett), the cook, get the day set up.”
The Senior Center is also referred to as the AGAPE Senior Center. The name AGAPE is an acronym for All Goessel Area Projects for Elderly.
“It’s also called AGAPE because agape is one of the different kinds of love we talk about in the Bible,” Graber said. “What we’re really saying is-love is not something you feel, it’s something you do.”
As is typical for many in a new-job situation, Graber experienced a learning curve in the beginning.
“There was very much information to absorb at once-procedures and finances,” she said. “So there were procedural issues that were a little confusing at first. But I feel very comfortable with a lot of that now.”
Among her major responsibilities are keeping financial records, planning menus, arranging social activities, completing assessments and other types of paperwork involved in the daily operation of a center that serves from 20 to 55 noon meals a day.
The busiest time of her day is right after the lunch program, Graber said.
That’s when she confirms that all the people who signed in actually were there for a meal, counts the receivables and takes the money to be deposited in the bank.
“I have to keep five money bags separate,” Graber said. “It can’t be left to the next morning when I might have more time.”
One of her major duties is completing assessments on those enrolled in the meal program. That duty requires filling out paper work that can add up to as many as eight pages on one individual.
“The state requires program registration for persons qualifying for the suggested contribution of $2.50 (per meal) or what they can comfortably afford,” Graber said.
“This registration needs to be done every year with each of the clients. Then, for Meals-on-Wheels, they also need assessments. These are all rather lengthy assessments that require quite a bit of my time.”
Those not registered or under 60 pay $3.55 per meal at the Senior Center.
“But everyone is welcome,” Graber said. “The important thing is to call ahead. It’s not like a restaurant to just decide at the last minute to eat out here.”
A mere two months into her job, Graber had high praise for her predecessor and planned to continue with the daily operation of the Senior Center as in the past.
“It’s a very good program, and I fill some very big shoes,” she said of Penner, who resigned because of her husband’s health. “I’ve walked into a very effective, efficient, well-operated program.”
The only area she said she would hope to enhance would be developing a more extensive exercise program at the center and encouraging more interest in it.
“I really feel exercise is a very important part of maintaining our health as we age,” Graber said. “I see that because of my own experience. But I also want to be sensitive to the needs of the community.”
Asked what past background experiences prepared her for the job, Graber said, “Probably my education.”
And what does she like best about her new calling at the senior center?
“I think the interaction with the people here-the camaraderie and being able to visit and talk,” Graber said.
“Some of them are going through adjustments, and I’m going through some of that, too. It’s the adjustment from being married to being a widow, eating alone, retiring and getting older-the aging process.”
As more seniors poured into the Senior Center one mid-August morning, Graber turned her attention to answering phone calls and getting ready for the noon meal-all in a day’s work for the new director.