Aug. 12—Reluctant at first, Thelma McNutt, 93, succumbed to peer pressure and danced Wednesday among other seniors at the Athens Activity Center to “Waltz Across Texas,” a song to which she once danced in Texas at her wedding.
McNutt and other seniors dance again in the Pryor Street building after it reopened in May with a new name and under city supervision. The Council on Aging ceased operations at the site in December, citing building maintenance issues.
The city spent $50,000 to repair and renovate the building, and city council voted this week to allocate an additional $12,150 to the project.
McNutt, who has lived in Athens since 2013, has been coming to the facility since her husband died eight or nine years ago and said she loves it.
“I like to come at least two or three times a week. At my age, sometimes I don’t make it here,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly here.”
On Wednesday morning the seniors learned line dancing during a dancecise session.
“When I was in college, I had a square dance class because it was required for your graduation. I just like watching them, but they want to drag me up there,” McNutt joked. “I’m not a dancer, but I like it.”
McNutt said his favorite thing to do was the Athens Opry live music on Thursday mornings. She said she also likes to sing gospel on Tuesday mornings.
The center is a good way to get her out of the house, McNutt said. “I will come as long as the good Lord allows me.”
The center at 912 W. Pryor St. in Athens operated as the Athens-Limestone Senior Center until the Council on Aging vacated the building in December due to its condition.
Susan McGrady, director of the Council on Aging, said in February the building had problems with a leaking roof, falling ceiling tiles, dead insects, peeling paint and deteriorated pavement in the parking lot on the east side.
“It’s (the building) just in bad shape for what we’re doing,” McGrady told Limestone County commissioners at their Feb. 22 meeting.
Holly Hollman, grants coordinator and communications specialist for Athens, said the city’s decision to take over the center came after the commission met.
“Mayor Marks and City Council decided to go in a different direction after (McGrady) made a presentation to the County Commission saying the building was unfit and they (COA) weren’t going to use it. in this state,” she said.
While the city owned the building, the county ran the seniors’ program until December.
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said in March there were no major maintenance issues at the building. He said the work done by the city since was simply to redevelop the building, which was used as an armory during World War II.
The city was in the midst of a $25,000 roof repair in December as the Council on Aging left. In April, the Athens City Council approved the expenditure of $25,000 for the interior entrance and offices.
Hollman said the funds were for “renovating the interior entryway with new carpet, tile, paint, and a small restroom renovation.” The carpet in the offices was also replaced and the entire building was thoroughly cleaned.
City Council on Monday approved the use of up to $12,150 in COVID relief funds to replace one of the HVAC units.
“We look good. I think not only does it look good, but we’ve proven that we care about older people. We have programs going on, we have activities and that’s really about it. it’s about,” Marks said.
The elders noticed the changes in the building. “They did it again and it’s beautiful here now,” McNutt said.
Paul Irons, an 86-year-old retired firefighter from Athens, has been at the facility for several years and said the improvements were excellent.
“It’s very different, it’s been remodeled. … The city has spent a lot of money remodeling all of this,” he said.
The center is open Monday through Friday, and Irons comes each day to play dominoes. He even taught several other seniors how to play. Irons said he had been playing for 63 years. “I could play it 24/7.”
Irons said he really enjoyed coming to the center. “I don’t meet strangers. It’s just friends I’ve never met.”
Of his fellow seniors at the center, he said, “I love them the way they love me, I hope.”
Amy Golden, special projects coordinator for the mayor’s office, is currently the center’s only paid employee. Golden was already in his position before Athens took over the installation. When the opportunity arose, she asked Marks if she could run the center.
Golden said the city’s program cannot be compared to that of the Council on Aging.
“We’re a completely different model,” she said. The new program is “just a community of Athenians and people from County Limestone who just like to be together and be active. … It’s just a really healthy environment.”
Marks said the center will be part of the city’s fiscal year 2023 budget being developed. He said they wanted to hire an assistant for Golden. Marks said the building is also available for rent, which will provide revenue for its operation.
Athens was already paying for building utilities before taking over senior program operations, “but there will definitely be additional costs,” Marks said.
Marks said the ultimate goal is to provide activities for seniors.
“The overall goal is to do what’s best for our seniors. I believe we’ve done that with our activity center,” Marks said. “I’m proud of what we do.”
The busiest day so far was August 2, when 92 seniors showed up. One of the day’s activities was a dance party. There were 1,076 people present in May, 591 in June and 1,012 in July. If people come for more than one day, they are counted every day.
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