Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Senior center celebrates 35 years

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Senior Center celebrated two milestones this year on Friday. The senior center is now 35-years-old and the senior center building at Victory Circle is 25-years-old.

Close to 200 seniors, city officials and civic leaders enjoyed lunch and reflected on the center’s history in honor of the occasions. The Jacksonville Senior Center was incorporated in 1974, and the building on 100 Victory Circle was opened on May 20, 1984.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher spoke before the luncheon. He said the senior center is a place to continue to grow relationships and connect with the community. The center helps meet the social needs of seniors.

The mayor spoke about the future of the senior center. He said he would like to have safe rooms built into the center that would give Jacksonville residents a place to seek shelter during severe storms.

Ida Casson, 90, has been coming to the senior center at least once a week for the past four years to play table games and for fellowship. Casson has lived in Jacksonville for 10 years.

“I like the whole atmosphere. It is a comfortable place to come. It is clean.

“There is warmth and concern with the people who work here,” Casson said.

Deirdre Reed said, “The staff is very helpful and cordial. They want to make sure we are taken care of.”

Ben Rice was board president of the Jacksonville Senior Center when the new building was constructed 25 years ago.

“There were a lot of elderly people living in the neighborhood. It seemed logical to place it here,” Rice said.

“Every success has a lot of parents. I think it applies here,” Rice said.

According to past newspaper accounts from 1984, the Jacksonville Senior Center cost $650,000.

A $400,000 Community Development Block Grant helped fund the construction. First Jacksonville Bank and First National Bank of Jacksonville each purchased $125,000 in low interest bonds. The Gray family donated the property.

Records for establishing a center for seniors began in 1968 with the social concerns committee at First United Methodist Church of Jacksonville.

The senior center was incorporated in 1974. It was known as the Jacksonville Elderly Activities Program. The center was located in a single-wide mobile home on Martin Street near where Splash Zone stands today. Then-Mayor James Reid and the city council were able to expand the program by adding more mobile homes to the center.

Bart Gray Jr. spoke to the audience before the lunch and reflected on the center. He talked about how its location in the Sunnyside Hills addition has been important to Gray family history.

Gray’s father, Bart Sr., and mother, Anna, lived in several homes in the Sunnyside addition. Bart Gray Jr.; his brother, Thad, and sister, Ginger, grew up in the neighborhood.

Gray said, “After World War II, our father and mother wanted to be in the theater business. They had a choice between two communities that had theaters for sale. They chose Jacksonville as home.

“The theater burned not long afterwards (in the late 1940s). They had established a number of friends in their new hometown.

One was Tot Slavens, who was the redeveloper of Sunnyside Hills addition, as well as the Sunnyside shopping center.” he said.

Gray continued, “It was in the Sunnyside Shopping Center that Tot built for our family what became the Graco Theater.

Through this friendship with Mr. Slavens, our family was able to acquire the whole Sunnyside Hills shopping center.”

“Over the years this center included a grocery store, a barber shop, a beauty shop, City Lumber Company, a service station, a five and dime store and an office supply company. This location was the heart of this part of our community,” he said.

During the early 1970’s, the Gray siblings formed GBT. They acquired many pieces of their parents real estate properties including the Sunnyside Hills Shopping Center and the Graco Theater.

According to Bart Gray Jr., GBT offered to donate the Graco Theater to the city to improve the senior program.

The city along with the community did not renovate the old one-screen movie house but built the Jacksonville Senior Center on the property. The center officially opened on May 20, 1984.

Today, the Jacksonville Senior Center provides a place for senior adults to socialize, have a hot meal and stay active.

The center participates in a meals-on-wheels program which delivers an average of 200 meals a day and 45,000 meals a year.

Another program the center has is called telephone assurance. Phone calls are made each day to seniors at their homes to make sure they are okay.

The center is largely funded by the city of Jacksonville, CareLink and United Way. The center holds fund-raisers to support its programs. There is bingo at 6 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month.

There will be a chili supper at 6 p.m. on Oct. 22. There is a $15 annual membership fee at the center, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.