Monett seniors organized in 1986 and began meeting at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church for meals that were brought in and a daily program. According to Bonnie Long, the first director of the Senior Center who was one of the guests of honor, the original number was "not many." The dream of having their own building took shape early.
In her introductory comments at the celebration, Billie Bounous, the center's current director, identified the original board members as Jim Whittaker, George Bounous, Elwood Williams, V.V. Murphy, Bea Conner, Liz Glasser and Julia Carder. Bounous talked about the resourcefulness of the original group and the many fundraising strategies they pursued.
The building on Dairy Street was erected at a cost of $200,000. Its dedication was fondly remembered as a triumph shared widely, with so many working toward the goal. Emory Melton, then serving as state senator, was the dedicatory speaker. The stone sign for the facility had been donated by Doug and Bernadine Hobson, along with their partners at Buchanan Funeral Home, Mike and Glenda Hemphill.
The Hobsons were on hand last week for the celebration. Other guests included original board member Bea Conner, current Board Secretary Phyllis Henderson, who had attended back to 1986, original participant Ruth Williams, and Dick Huennekens, current board president.
Also identified were current Vice-President Marilyn Shepherd, Treasurer Lou Koenig and board members Kenneth Allred, Doris Rau and Jon Suit. Special guests on hand for the occasion were Lori Negre and Dr. Jonathan Apostol from the Monett Chamber of Commerce. Present from the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging (SMOA), which oversees center operations, were Linda Parker, area supervisor, and Becky Pike, regional supervisor.
Scrapbooks of photos from the center's early days were spread out for review. Many shared recollections about getting the center off the ground. Long, who worked about three years as director in the present location, talked about Whittaker's skills as an organizer and the enthusiasm he helped to generate.
"I've never seen people work like the senior citizens here," Long said. "We grew up in an age when we knew what work was."
"The original vision in having an organization for seniors was to have something to do," said Phyllis Henderson. Henderson said it was difficult initially to get people who were just retiring to come to the center. Over time, others have come along, replacing those who moved or passed away.
"It's a great place to eat," said Marty Beckwith. "The girls and I come here all the time."
The attraction of regular meals has been one of the services made possible under SMOA, Bounous said. In addition to providing a facility for socialization, games, exercise classes and educational speakers, Bounous said the center has become a hub for a variety of services to seniors, thanks to SMOA.
Besides the hot meals served seven days a week, the center and its staff are responsible for the delivery of hot meals to more than 60 home bound seniors in Monett, Purdy and Pierce City on weekdays. Frozen meals are delivered for weekends.
Bounous said SMOA also offers help with Medicare Part D and sign-up for medicine assistance, free tax service and informational presentations. Tax boards for senior citizen services in both Barry and Lawrence counties funnel funding through the center supporting homemaker services, meal delivery, various services to help seniors stay in their homes, respite care and personal care.
"We also have the OATS bus which brings our seniors here for meals, provides rides to Springfield and Joplin for medical purposes, and now has a route on Tuesdays and Fridays for Pierce City and Freistatt, bringing those seniors here for lunch. We have a great time here with all the seniors participating," Bounous said.
The official party included a "Happy Birthday" cake, served as dessert with the daily meal. Bounous said attendance for meals runs around 50 to 60, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, when the number rises up to around 80 people.
The center itself has changed little over 20 years. A workshop and storage building have been added on the southeast corner of the grounds, providing resources for other activities.
The legacy of the center was easily captured by Bonnie Long. She called the place "wonderful," and the board that came together to establish the facility "the most needed organization in the community."