By JENNIFER AMATO
SOUTH BRUNSWICK – In a building that is just 25 years old, there are enough memories to last 25 lifetimes.
The South Brunswick Senior Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Sept. 22 with a celebratory party.
Betsy Sansig, 92, remembers when a celebration was held to mark the first official day of the opening of the center in 1991.
“The mayor was here. And a lot of bigshots,” she said of the ribbon cutting and luncheon to follow.
Prior to the establishment of the senior center, a group of seniors would meet in the early 1980s at the municipal building to petition for a space of their own while using Crossroads Middle School, the VFW, the high school and Woodlot Park as meeting grounds.
“We used to join trips. We used to go away sometimes for a week … and book a hotel,” Sansig said.
Then, with permission of the mayor and council at the time, a 10,000-square-foot building was built for a population of 2,000 residents who were age 55 or older, with about 50 seniors coming to the center each day.
A group would go door-to-door selling stickers to residents – Sansig did not remember what the stickers looked like – in order to buy $3,000 worth of kitchenware and dishware for the new center.
Jane Clute, who has been a member since 1991, said she “always [joined] the exercise groups right from the beginning.” She recalls T-shirt painting, quilting, card groups, bridge, jewelry and pottery.
The billiards club plays tournaments with other centers. Ping pong, bridge and mahjong are also popular.
Then, in 2013, an additional 10,500 square feet was built for the adjacent Wellness Center, operated by Princeton HealthCare System.
Don Bergman, a volunteer since 2010 who now serves on the Senior Advisory Council as chairman of the Health Committee, said that residents wait for health information related to arthritis and the Zika virus quicker than he can provide it.
“Seniors love it. As I put it out, seniors are waiting there to pick it up,” he said.
Christine Wildemuth, director of the Senior Center, said there are almost 9,000 seniors in South Brunswick today, with about 200 using the center’s services every hour of every day.
“[There are] more people and more interest, especially since the addition of the Wellness Center and the addition of programs. People want to be healthy these days,” she said.
Over the years, the Transportation Department also expanded from one bus to a fleet of six.
“It helps them get around and be independent so they don’t have to rely on family or friends or neighbors,” Wildemuth said.
The Food Pantry used to occupy a room in the building, thought it has since moved to a different building in the municipal complex. However, Meals on Wheels still operates out of the Senior Center.
The building itself is also used in case of emergency, such as a shelter during superstorm Sandy or a cooling center during the hot summer months.
Other special features of the South Brunswick Senior Center are a Veterans Club, the Golden Age Club, the Senior Club, the “What’s On Your Mind?” discussion group and the Friends of the Senior Center.
Wildemuth said the center has transcended its perception as simply a recreational facility.
“I call it one-stop shopping for seniors,” she said. “55-plus? Call us.
“There are so many more things now that we do. A good point is how we developed and changed over the years,” she said.
Clute noted that because of the wide variety of programs, seniors are now coming with their adult children. This is due to, in part, the senior center trying to stay current, Wildemuth said, with offerings such as tap dance, yoga, Zumba, Wii bowling and Coloring for Adults.
“We try to stay on the leading edge,” she said. “Education and learning new things at any age stimulates the brain.”
Stimulating the brain is also something young children help with, as the center welcomes intergenerational programs. Students from Crossroads Middle School bring their orchestra and choir to the center, while seniors are invited to a Day With the Characters at the school during their play. High school students teach computer and smartphone classes, and also volunteer at the center in general during the summer.
“It’s more than a senior center. It’s almost a club. So many friends here, we get together outside of the center,” Bergman said.
“Those connections carry over to a social life outside of here,” Clute added.
Clute also mentioned the diversity of the patrons of the center.
“How well everyone gets along … too bad the rest of the world can’t take a look,” she said.
The anniversary party will be held at 11 a.m. on Sept., 22 on the center grounds. There will be a photo booth, music by DJ Mel, lunch provided by the county and speeches provided by dignitaries.
It will coincide with September being National Senior Center Month.
Sign up by Sept. 12 by calling 732-329-4000, ext. 7670.
For more information, visit www.sbtnj.net.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.