For Willis, 16+ years at senior center has been a mission, not a job

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
After almost 161⁄2 years, Connee Willis will be retiring from a job that aims to serve retired people.

When her tasks are completed on Friday, Willis will step down from her dual role as meals program director and activities director at the Hillsboro Senior Center.

“I’ve been blessed probably more than the people I’ve worked with,” she said.

That’s saying a lot. Willis is known and loved by seniors for her positive outlook and caring nature.

“A lot of people say, ‘What are we going to do without you?'” she said. “I’m not bragging-but it was just fun. It was wonderful. But it’s time now.

“I’m 67 and my husband’s 70,” she added. “So if we’re going to have some time together and do some things while we’re still able, it’s really time.”

Willis was hired first as meals director at the center in January 1990. Two years later, when her predecessor, Sam Baerg moved to Salina, her job was expanded to include activities, too.

Willis said the invitation to direct the senior center appealed to her because of her natural interests and professional background.

“I was a former teacher, and this job has all the good things about teaching, but no lesson plans, no papers to correct, no kids to discipline-not very often, anyway,” she said. “It’s just building people up and enriching their lives.”

Willis said the patrons of the Hillsboro Senior Center put her educational training to good use.

“At many senior centers, people just want to play games, like bingo,” she said. “Here, they want something inspiring, something educational, something worthwhile-not just play a game and go home. In fact, a lot of them see playing games as wasting time.

“That has been good for me because that’s the kind of person I am and the kind of things I know how to plan,” she said. “I don’t know a lot of games, so this has been a good fit, I think.”

Finding the right kind of activities and program ideas has been the most challenging part of her job, she said.

The most enjoyable?

“I think the day-to-day interaction with people, touching other hearts,” she said “And it has been fun to go on our overnight bus trips-it just builds a family feeling. And our van outings every month to explore interesting places in Kansas-I think those have been the most enjoyable.”

Willis said her husband, Harold, a former high school band instructor, will continue work a while longer yet for a music store in Wichita. But she said it’s time for his two-hour daily commute to end.

The couple plan to put their Hillsboro house on the market and eventually relocate in Wichita.

As for the kind of qualities here successor will need, Willis described someone much like herself: “A creative individual with communication skills and a love for enriching other’s lives.”

She added: “Anyone in it primarily for the money will not be satisfied.

“It’s a mission more than a job.”

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