The Sartell Senior Connection will soon be able to celebrate its fifth birthday party in its new “home.”
Last week, that new “home” opened officially in the east wing of the Sartell-St. Stephen School District Office Building. On Dec. 3, the Sartell Senior Connection Board held its first meeting in the room, which used to be the school library many years ago.
In a pleasant serendipity, the room is still a library. Two of its walls are lined with bookshelves holding the thousands of books of the Senior Connection’s lending library, which is open to anybody of any age in the Sartell area.
Those book shelves are, in fact, the same shelves that lined those walls for years in that library room. But now they shine with a fresh coat of white paint. Members of the Senior Connection decided to paint the shelves, which had been a dark varnished wood. The shelves were removed from the walls and hauled to the garage of Ann Doyscher-Domres, coordinator for the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education program. About 10 Senior Connection members and Doyscher-Domres spent many long hours sanding the old shelves and painting them so they now look spanking-new.
Throughout the past summer, Connection members were in a kind of limbo. A massive reconstruction project throughout the school system, especially at the Office Building, caused many rearrangements, and the Connection temporarily lost its headquarters. For several years, seniors had met and held activities in a large room in the west end of the building, which was many decades ago and up until the late 1960s the Sartell School, grades K-8.
During the summer hiatus, the furniture and other items in the old Connection room had to be stored, including all of the books in its lending library. College-student interns working with the community-education program were kind enough to do a lot of the heavy lifting, including recently when all of the stored books had to be hefted down the stairs from their second-floor storage area.
The school district’s reconstruction project, fortunately, had always included new quarters for the Connection – a large room right across from the old cafeteria and near the gymnasium. A small at-home-type kitchen connected to the cafeteria can now be used by Connection members.
Someday, the Connection might have a home in a Sartell Community Center, when and if one is built. For years, that outcome has been a goal of not just senior citizens but of city officials, too. But in the meantime, seniors are relieved and happy to have a central meeting place once again.
They are also happy the reconstructed building now has two multi-purpose rooms that can be reserved for Connection events.
The Sartell Senior Connection Center is open weekdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. to anybody of any age, as is its library.
Jan Sorell, chair of the Connection Board, has been with it since its inception five years ago. She reminisced about its successes during an interview with the Sartell Newsleader. Thanks to the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education program, city staff and a core group of seniors, the Connection got off to a rousing start in late 2007 and early 2008 with lots of ideas and energies. Since then it has grown to the point where it has its own newsletter, online and print version, that is sent to about 600 people. The core group of members, who meet most regularly for one or more events, consists of from 50 to 100.
“It’s so good for seniors to be with other seniors, other people,” Sorell said. “It’s so exciting for all of us to form the organization the way we want it to be. There is so much creativity, so much variety. We’re always willing to try something new. It’s an amazing group to be a part of.”
What has always impressed Sorell, she said, is at least half of the Connection members are relative newcomers to the Sartell area. Five years ago, before the Connection was founded, they did not even know one another. And now, after five years, they’ve become very good friends and mutually enriching acquaintances.
“Because most of us did not know one another, that makes our group so special because when someone joins us, that person doesn’t feel like this is some kind of established clique,” she said. “I only knew one other person when we started this. And now I have a huge circle of friends because of the Connection. It’s our mission to keep aging adults active, interested, curious, learning and healthy.”
And that mission comes naturally because members of the Connection, with their lifetime of diverse experiences, always bring new ideas and new activities, making the group always fresh and dynamic, Sorell noted.
The Connection also is a big asset to the Sartell area, Sorell believes, because by staying active, healthy and involved with the entire Sartell community, there is less need for resources to be used on aging people who do not keep up their health and who thus become more dependent.
Members of the Connection spurn the term “old age.” Many times, when guest speakers visit the group, the speakers say comments such as, “I thought I was going to talk to a bunch of old people today.”
The speakers are always impressed by the comments, questions and young attitudes of the group members.
“They seem amazed at how we don’t act old,” Sorell said.
Join the fun
The members of the Sartell Senior Connection are forever emphasizing their organization is for anybody of any age, Sartell residents or not.
The group’s annual “Laughter and Lemonade” event is one example of its wide-open welcoming attitude. For the past three years, the entertainment event (music and comedy) has attracted almost 300 people of all ages to St. Francis Xavier Church’s Meeting Place, where the event takes place.
Other Connection events, almost all of which are free, include the following:
“Coffee and Conversation” at 9 a.m. every Thursday at Country Manor Apartments cafeteria. Local and non-local speakers meet with the group for coffee and rolls and share their stories, followed by question-and-answer sessions.
The “Second Tuesday” meeting meets at 2 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Connection Center. This event also features interesting speakers who often bring along slide shows, artifacts and other visual-audio items to share.
The “Connection Crafters” meet at 8 a.m. every Wednesday morning in the cafeteria across the hallway from the Connection Center. People work on their wide variety of craft items, have fun and share insights about arts and crafts.
Poker players meet at 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.
A “Recycled Cards” gathering takes place at 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. Seniors create imaginative greeting cards, using old ones that have been donated. The cards can be purchased (via voluntary donations) at the Connection Center.
Another popular event is “Trivia Night,” which used to take place on the first Friday of every month. As of January 2013, it will take place on the second Friday of every month (Jan. 11) at the Connection Center. The cost of participating and refreshments is $5.
Connection members host a singalong at 2 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the Good Shepherd Home in Sauk Rapids. They also do singalongs at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell. Also at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, they perform singalongs at “Legends” at Heritage Place in Sartell.
Connection members and anyone else can enjoy lunch and games of Farkle at noon every Tuesday at Country Manor Apartments, although reservations are required. The cost is $5. To reserve a place, call 258-8974.
Special Connection activities include occasional bus trips for sightseeing, education and fun times in other cities, such as dinner theater in the Twin Cities or – recently – a tour of some of the old mansions in Little Falls.
For more about the Sartell Senior Connection, visit its website at www.sartellseniorconnection.com.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.