Saturday, July 22, 1989, 2 p.m. – the dedication ceremony of the brand new Lakeland Community Senior Center at Balsam Street and Second Avenue, Woodruff.
But the senior center’s colorful history extends far beyond that date, before anybody even dreamed of constructing the building that stands today.
Since its beginning, the senior center has had the same purpose: To be a resource for the entire community.
“We really try to be the hub of information for everyone,” Holly Schwartz, director of the Lakeland Senior Center, said. “It’s a meeting place for the whole community, and not just for the township that we’re in. It’s for all the surrounding townships and for anybody that comes for the summer. Everyone is welcome to come.”
Some community organizations already put the senior center to good use as a meeting place, including veterans services, a grief support group, the coin and stamp club, the garden club, legal services, the Lakeland Art League and more.
“Anybody that needs to use the facility we make arrangements and they can use it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a children’s group, adult group or senior group,” Schwartz said.
How it all began
Like most realities, the Lakeland Senior Center began as an idea – a way to meet a community need.
“After months of discussion and planning, senior citizens of the Lakeland area formed a corporation specifically for the purpose of serving the elderly through developing programs using private, state and federal funding,” The Lakeland Times reported Oct. 27, 1977.
Thus the Lakeland Retirement Foundation (LRF) was formed, and there were big ideas for the newly-founded organization.
“We have many plans, and lots of dreams, but I think we can realize many of them,” Paul French, a LRF director and organizer, said.
If only he knew how many of their original dreams would be realized and how many lives they would impact.
“Mr. French, Mr. [John] Kuhn and Mr. [Rich] Ristow had a vision of providing services to elderly people in the Northwoods. But what did they need? Seven people were hired to canvas the area. They divided up the Lakeland territory and went house-to-house asking questions, especially of the people who were senior citizens,” Sharon Thrall, present-day Lakeland Senior Center secretary, wrote in letter titled “Lakeland Senior Center – 30 years in the making.”
After their surveying, the canvasers found a need for transportation and meals delivered to homes, and some individuals who were lonely and wanted a phone call during the day to ensure they were OK, Thrall explained.
Less than a year later, the Hiawatha Senior Center Lodge opened its doors April 1, 1978, and its grand opening was held Saturday, Aug. 26, 1978.
The Hiawatha Senior Center overlooked Hiawatha Lake, and the facility was previously used as the headquarters of Easy Slide Cross Country Ski Center.
“When we moved up here, we lived on Lake Seventeen in Hazelhurst. One of my neighbors said after we moved in, ‘Go see that senior center.’ So I did, and oh boy we were so grateful for it because we had a lot of activities there,” Marion Kamke, past Lakeland Senior Center board member, said. Kamke had the opportunity to enjoy the Hiawatha Senior Center Lodge and currently volunteers her time at the present-day Lakeland Senior Center.
At the Hiawatha Senior Center, lunches were provided and afterward people were invited to play cards or listen to music. Dances were held every month and interesting speakers were invited to discuss relevant subjects. Intergenerational events were organized to bring the community together – spaghetti suppers, pancake breakfasts, style shows, ice cream socials, Halloween parties and programs put on by children for the seniors, Thrall described.
“I walked in and they were all really welcoming, but the place was too small for all the retirees that were coming up here,” Kamke said, describing the center’s ironic situation – success creating a problem.
According to the proposal for the new Lakeland Community Senior Center, a 25 percent growth rate in services provided to the community from 1983-85 made a larger facility necessary.
A solution to this problem was under way, and Sept. 1, 1988, marked the start of the project – ground was broken for the new Lakeland Community Senior Center located at Balsam Street and Second Avenue.
And the LRF director at that time had the same vision for the new center that Schwartz has today.
“We’re hoping that the new building will be used by more of the community at large, other than just the seniors. We’d like to let the community know that the facility will be available for other civic clubs and organizations during the off-hours in the evening. We want to open things up for all age levels in the community,” Bonnie Spear, LRF director, said in an interview to The Lakeland Times April 4, 1989.
A total of six years of planning, $412,000 raised by the community and efforts of hundreds of volunteers later and the Lakeland Community Senior Center was completed.
One hundred-fifty guests enjoyed lunch the first day it was offered at the new center May 30, 1989.
And a few months later, 500 attended the dedication ceremony Saturday, July 22, 1989.
Lakeland Senior Center today
Today the senior center provides necessary community services such as Meals on Wheels, van transportation and escort services – meeting those same needs that were found through the LRF survey in the late 70s.
“Meals on Wheels delivers the meals to the house and that might be that person’s only contact for the day, so it’s also a security check,” Patty Klug, Lakeland Senior Center board member, said. “If you deliver a meal and no one’s there, then they come back and call the person to make sure everything’s OK. It’s a double check between making sure they’re getting a decent meal and a security check.”
Between Meals on Wheels and lunch served at the senior center, about 400 meals are provided every weekday during the fall and winter season. However, over the summer, anywhere between 400 and 700 meals are served.
Another invaluable service provided by the center is transportation.
“The transportation program is huge here,” Schwartz said. “There’s so many people in the area that have, for instance, lost a spouse and maybe don’t have family that can be all-day caregivers ... They have no means of transportation other than us, so they totally rely on us for that.”
And that includes providing a ride to a doctor’s appointment, trips to the grocery store or a visit to a salon, Schwartz added.
“Plus the simple fact that we’re not like the city and it’s so far to get to different places,” Schwartz said. “So a neighbor might not be all that close like a neighbor would be in the city. They depend on us and we’re pretty much family for them.”
Because the Northwoods is so spread out and the van transportation only operates in a 15-mile radius, an escort service is also available through the senior center.
“For somebody going down to Rhinelander for a doctor’s appointment, the escort service covers beyond the 15-mile radius,” Klug said. “For example, this past Monday I went to Marshfield with a lady because I’m one of the escort drivers. She had a doctor’s appointment at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield and she can’t drive because of an eye issue.”
At the center itself, there are a variety of programs available for entertainment, education and health purposes.
“One thing that we do a lot is team up with other agencies in the area and have educational talks,” Schwartz said. “We try to do a lot of educational things because we’re not always sure that people are aware of the changes say for Medicare or their insurance. Not everybody listens to the radio or the TV or they don’t always read their mail all the way, so we try to have informational seminars that keep people refreshed and informed about things.”
The informational seminars cover a variety of topics, ranging from Medicare and insurance to health issues to scams going around in the area.
“People need to be aware of scams in the area so if they get a phone call, they know they shouldn’t be so trusting,” Schwartz said. “If they have any questions about it they should come here in the office and talk to us or to a family member about it.”
Additionally, AARP sponsors a free tax program at the center for everyone but specifically for senior or low-income individuals, Klug said.
Regarding health issues, the center has a supply of medical equipment that is available for community members to borrow, including shower seats, wheelchairs and canes.
“A lot of times if somebody has surgery, it’s only temporary,” Schwartz said. “It’s a nice little program so that people can come in and borrow it for a short amount of time, usually for a three-month basis. But of course if somebody needs it for longer than that they just need to let us know and that’s fine.”
And the senior center today still promotes intergenerational events. Several years ago the center “teamed up” with AV-W, and a few kids spent one day a week helping out in the kitchen with Meals on Wheels.
“They really have a lot of fun with that,” Schwartz said. “And it’s really neat, too, because the kids learn a little sense of humbleness and respect because sometimes they’ll recognize a name – and of course it’s all confidential – but they’ll say, ‘That’s so-and-so’s grandma,’ and all of a sudden there’s a connection and it’s more meaningful than just packing a lunch and giving it to somebody.”
As Schwartz went on to describe, “It’s important to incorporate the youth with the elderly. It’s like grandkids coming to visit – it’s just so meaningful.”
Children also interact with the older generation over the holidays by performing Christmas programs at the senior center, including AV-W and MHLT students and high school madrigal singers.
At the center there’s also an exercise room, card playing, a writers group, a genealogy group, field trips, a computer cafe and WiFi, bunco, flu shots and blood pressure checks and much more.
“So we try to do everything,” Schwartz said. “When people need help, we want them to come. When they want to have fun, we want them to come. When they are looking for a nutritious meal and socializing, we want them to come.”
Volunteers, board of directors
“I was just at an Arbor Vitae town board meeting and we were talking about how choosing board members is so crucial for leadership,” Schwartz said.
“At the center, we’ve been really blessed because we’ve always had such dedicated people on the board that are looking forward to the future so that the center will always be available.”
While the board members are so vital to the center, so are its volunteers and United Way.
“Without our volunteers, this place would not function,” Schwartz said. “Volunteers are a key factor. They are so dedicated and reliable, and they have a lot of fun. And United Way helps out a lot of the nonprofit organizations in the area. They do wonderful things.”
Because of the dedication and hard work of the board members and volunteers, the Lakeland Community Senior Center impacts countless lives in the Northwoods.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘You’re the reason I get up in the morning.’ And doesn’t that make you feel good? They know they can come here, get a meal, meet their friends and have that secure feeling. I think that’s a huge thing that we have such a wonderful facility to offer to people in the area,” Schwartz said.
For more information about the Lakeland Community Senior Center, call 715-356-9118.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org