Tag Archives: Sue Pfister

Senior Center: An “Old” Home Is Now Very New

Martha Aasen remembers when Westport’s Senior Center was part of Staples High School.

Two small rooms were hidden between the fieldhouse and wood shop. It was open just a few hours a day. Lunch came from the school cafeteria.

In 2003, a new Senior Center opened on Imperial Avenue. It was a spectacular improvement.

Bright and airy, it was filled with rooms for meetings, lectures, fitness and films. There was a library and dining room too. Seniors flocked there for events, classes and camaraderie.

That was 15 years ago. When First Selectman Jim Marpe cuts a ribbon tomorrow (Friday, January 4, 11 a.m.), Westporters of all ages will marvel at the first major enhancement of the Senior Center since it opened.

The 9-month project comes in on schedule — and on budget. The town appropriated $3.975 million. Friends of the Senior Center raised $300,000 for equipment and amenities.

(Clockwise from lower left): Martha Aasen, Leslie Wolf, Stan Nayer and Sue Pfister in the lobby of the newly modernized Senior Center.

Last week, Senior Center director Sue Pfister, Friends president Leslie Wolf, and Aasen — now in her 90s, and as passionate about the Center as ever — offered a tour of the new facility. It blends seamlessly with the original.

The 5,000-square foot new wing includes:

  • A new fitness center, with modern treadmills and machines
  • A strength classroom, also used for tap dancing and Zumba
  • A new library, with a computer and magnifiers
  • A drop-in game room
  • All new furniture and carpeting
  • New display cases for artwork
  • Outdoor access to the adjacent Baron’s South meadow, for tai chi and meditation
  • Offices for program manager Holly Betts, and interns
  • New restrooms with showers (for when the Senior Center is used as an emergency shelter).

Martha Aasen on the new treadmill. Doors open onto the Baron’s South park.

Other parts of the Senior Center have been modernized too. There are new floors, chairs and tabletops in the “Sue’s Cafe” dining room (where “grab-and-go” food will soon be available); a new wood floor next door, for dance classes; a second art room, and a handsome new custom desk in the entry foyer.

“It’s even better than we envisioned,” says Aasen — who was closely involved in the project — proudly.

“We’ve had so many meetings, and we saw all the plans. But when you actually see it finished, it’s unbelievable.”

“Stunning!” adds Pfister.

New windows provide the same airy look as the original wing of the Senior Center.

The Senior Center director credits the project’s smooth completion to “tremendous cooperation” from local officials. The Building Department’s Steve Smith, the Department of Public Works, and Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava were all all-in.

Architect Brian Scheuzger designed the original building too. A.P. Construction — which is also handling the Westport Library’s Transformation Project — did all the work.

The Senior Center attracts a wide range of people, Pfister notes: Those who are very active; those looking for quiet activities; those who want to meet old friends, and those seeking companionship.

It’s a welcoming facility for some, a second home for others.

Now — for all of them — Westport’s Senior Center is better than ever.

Workers were still finishing up — and unloading furniture — last week.

Remembering Fran Reynolds

Fran Reynolds — for 25 years, Westport’s Department of Human Services senior services coordinator — died last week at 89. Longtime colleague Terry Giegengack sent along these thoughts:

Fran Reynolds passed away last Friday at Norwalk Hospital with her beloved daughters and family by her side. She will be remembered with loving respect by many — including those she worked with at Westport’s Department of Human Services.

Fran developed Senior Social Services many years ago. She was the heart and soul of the Human Services Department. As a young working mother for Senior Services, I appreciated her kindness and understanding, as well as her high standards of excellence in work performance.

The continuing professional education that I was fortunate to receive in Westport’s Human Services Department, from Fran and others noted below, provided the foundation for a lifetime of public social service. What I valued the most was Fran’s caring, thoughtful but honest assessments and evaluations of a situation. It challenged and delighted me when I could successfully anticipate all of her questions about a situation and have ready — all of the answers!

Fran treasured her family and friends with tender and loving care, helping us all to grow as better persons. She valued the learning experience, but it was her sense of humor that always made me smile and believe in tomorrow!

Fran Reynolds, with her trademark laugh.

Sue Pfister, Director of the Westport Senior Center, says that Fran was “forever giving of her time, spirit, self and soul to make sure everyone was taken care of, and their needs were being met. Her demeanor was always calm, slow but deliberate, effective and efficient. Her smile was contagious, right up to the end.

“She went peacefully, as she so well deserved. As a second mom to me, she will continue to live out all that she taught me, for I know she is watching over every step I take!”

Barbara Butler, former director of Westport Human Services and long-time friend, highlighted Fran’s tremendous respect for each individual and their right to make their own choices however much we might disagree.

“Fran instilled in all of us a respect and admiration for a person’s self- determination, including their feistiness. She was innovative, especially with the tax relief program. And how she could talk to a client long enough to convince them that a course of action they had initially opposed was actually their idea. Fran was brilliant!”

Fran Reynolds (2nd from left) with colleagues Terry Giegengack, Sue Pfister and Barbara Butler.

David Kennedy, former director of Westport Human Services and current COO, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, adds,  “Fran was one of the most thought-filled leaders I have ever known. Every decision she made was rooted in values that always put others first — and herself after everyone else — and always with her special smile. Fran Reynolds was a true servant leader who touched my life — and thousands of others’ — deeply.

“Have you ever seen the plaque, ‘Faith-Family-Friends’ that sits in many homes? That was Fran. Her faith guided her in all she did and was the bedrock of her life.

“Family? The more the merrier and the more love she gave each and everyone.

“Friends? If you knew her, you were a friend for life. Neighbor, college classmate, client, volunteer, Compo Beach acquaintance, co-worker, and on and on. Everyone was welcomed into her arms and always treasured for who they were not for who they knew.”

May God bless you and keep you. Rest in peace, dear Fran. Love, Terry Giegengack

Unsung Hero #5

Dana Johnson moved to Saugatuck over 30 years ago. He married Ginny, and is an avid tennis player.

He’s our unsung hero because of all his work with the Senior Center. He serves meals, calls Bingo every Thursday to a devoted crowd, and organizes events like the Staples Senior Golf Tournament — an inter-generational event involving the high school boys and girls teams that benefits the center’s fitness program.

Dana Johnson (2nd from right, with clipboard), at the Staples Senior Golf Tournament.

Dana also volunteers 2 days a week at the center’s congregate lunch program, as a “waiter.”

Loretta Hallock calls him “one of the most unselfish people I know.”

Senior center director Sue Pfister adds, “Dana’s warm smile and gregarious personality are welcome any day of the week here. The only problem I have with him is, he’s a Red Sox fan!”

Congratulations, Dana. Thanks for all you do, for so many!

Senior Center: Town Jewel Seeks Enhancements

There are about as many senior citizens in Westport as school-age children.

But you can’t lump all our older folks together, any more than you can say kindergartners are the same as, um, seniors.

The men and women who frequent our Senior Center — formally known as the Westport Center for Senior Activities — range in age from 60s to 90s. Some come nearly every day; others regularly, or infrequently.

They head to the handsome downtown building for a variety of reasons: Fitness, aerobics, Pilates or yoga. Discussions and lectures. Meet longtime friends, and make new ones. Parkinson’s support groups. Lunch. Use computers. Play pool, bridge, poker, Scrabble or ping pong. Paint, sculpt or sketch. Read. Help with taxes, financial planning or Medicare options. Parties. Movies. Blood pressure screening or flu shots. Find companionship, and a community.

A Senior Center lecture draws a typical full house.

Our Senior Center is one of the most popular, well organized and best staffed in the country. But growth — up to 350 people a day — has created a critical need for enhancements.

In 2007, town planners predicted the Imperial Avenue center would run out of space in 2011. The recession forced improvements onto the back burner.

For the past 7 years, they’ve been part of the 5-year capital forecast. On Wednesday, May 17 (8 p.m., Town Hall), Senior Center representatives will ask for $3.9 million for enhancements.

Plans for the enhanced Senior Center. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The Senior Center — run under the umbrella of the Human Services Department — has been around since the mid-1980s. Originally one room in the YMCA’s Bedford Building, it expanded when Greens Farms Elementary School closed (space there was shared with the Westport Arts Center).

When Greens Farms reopened, the Senior Center moved to a couple of rooms at Staples High School. The Imperial Avenue facility — built with strong support from First Selectman Dianne Farrell — opened in 2004. (“Ahead of schedule and under budget,” director Sue Pfister notes with pride.)

Much has changed since then. Closing hours were lengthened and Saturdays added, to accommodate seniors who still work.

Westport’s 60-plus population has risen dramatically — and they’re living longer.

As the Senior Center expanded its programming, more men and women attended more often.

There’s no more room for some activities. Four times a year, when registration opens for popular classes like yoga (gentle, regular and intense levels), the line forms at 6:30 a.m.

The small fitness area was filled to capacity on Saturday morning.

The other day, Pfister joined Enhancement Committee chair Lynn Goldberg and member Martha Aasen to explain the $3.9 million request.

There are 3 prongs.

One involves adding 4,500 square feet, offering:

  • More room for existing and new programs.
  • Space to socialize. “Many people meet friends here; they don’t go to each other’s homes nowadays,” Pfister says.
  • Meals to go (the Center serves 11,000 lunches a year — but for some seniors it’s their only real meal of the day).
  • Flexibility to adapt to changing future needs. “There’s a whole group of ‘new elders’ coming down the line,” 87-year-old Aasen notes.

(From left): Martha Aasen, Lynn Goldberg and Sue Pfister. Fitness equipment is stored in the hallway, because there’s no room anywhere else.

The 2nd element is parking and transportation. “If people can’t get here, our great programs are worthless,” Goldberg notes. For popular events, people now park as far away as Colonial Green.

“Senior-friendly” enhancements include more spots closer to the entrance, eliminating inclines, and adding ramps.

The 3rd category is “building tweaks.” This includes flashing work, making the front doors easier to use, adapting the computer room to the increase in laptops, and repositioning the fitness room so it opens onto walking trails on Baron’s South. (Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava is a member of the Enhancement Committee.)

A rendering of the proposed Senior Center building.

The Senior Center is a Westport jewel. And it’s not just for seniors.

Pfister is a huge proponent of intergenerational activities. Staples students volunteer there (one particularly popular activity: iPhone and iPad training). STAR delivers meals. The Senior Center often partners with the Library and other town organizations to sponsor programs.

“Mixing generations together helps reduce cognitive decline,” Pfister says. “And younger people get a lot out of interacting with older ones.”

A young volunteer at the annual lobster/clambake. The Senior Center serves 11,000 meals a year. For some, it’s their only real meal of the day. The proposed enhancement would enable the addition of “grab-and-go” meals.

She is excited about a new, upcoming activity. Suzuki has offered to run a course. Pfister must decide between violin or voice lessons.

Why not both? I ask.

“There’s no room,” she says.

Not now, anyway.

Hey, Girlfriend!

Girls enjoy getting together to share stories, food and fun. That’s true whether the girls are 15 or 90 years old.

Or — in Westport — whether they’re 15 and 90.

Carolyn Malkin is midway between those ages. As a volunteer meal-deliverer for the Senior Center, she realized a lot of women live alone. They’re interesting, chatty and filled with amazing histories — but they didn’t always have a chance for social interaction.

Carolyn had a great relationship with her own grandmother, who lived to 99. But — as the mother of 2 girls — she knew a lot of teenagers in  Westport don’t have grandmas nearby.

Rita Adams (left) with Melony Malkin. (Photo/Carolyn Malkin)

Rita Adams (left) with Melony Malkin. (Photo/Grace Kosner)

Working with the Senior Center’s Sue Pfister; Human Services’ Barbara Butler and Sue Lebrija; Staples High School administrators John Dodig and Rich Franzis, and “younger seniors” Mary Maynard and Mildred Bunche, Carolyn created the Girlfriends Club. Pairs of high school girls spend an hour or so a week with a “girlfriend”: an older Westporter.

Last year, Carolyn’s senior daughter Melony and a few friends formed the first relationships.

This year, Carolyn’s sophomore daughter Sydney recruited her own friends. A couple of dozen more teenagers signed up. It’s unclear who has more fun: they, or their 80- and 9o-something girlfriends.

“This is not about teenagers visiting women who are helpless and lonely,” Carolyn emphasizes. “It’s a 2-way relationship. These are very lively, very lovely women. The girls adore them, and the feeling is mutual.”

Jo Woog -- my mother -- with girlfriends Lauren Stack and Sophie Epstein. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Jo Woog — my mother — with girlfriends Lauren Stack and Sophie Epstein. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Carolyn goes to the 1st meeting, introducing everyone and helping the conversation along. Very quickly, though, she’s not needed.

“Their relationship develops better without me,” she says.

Joyce Clarke is the oldest girlfriend. At 103, she didn’t know what she’d talk about. She hadn’t been around young people for a while. Quickly, Carolyn says, she learned they’re interested in the same things she was, years ago.

Sculptor Lucia White shows Grace Kosner around her studio. (Photo/Carolyn Malkin)

Photographer Lucia White shows Grace Kosner around her studio. (Photo/Carolyn Malkin)

Joyce is just one of the older girlfriends with remarkable lives. The women were business owners, artists and photographers. Rita Adams was a dancer and circus performer. “These are fun, vibrant people,” Carolyn emphasizes. “The girls fall in love with them. Having young blood is great, and the women have so much to give.”

The weekly meetings are fun. So too are get-togethers with the entire club.

At a Valentine’s party earlier this month, the group gathered at the Senior Center. Nothing was planned, beyond food and decorations. Soon, everyone was talking, laughing — even dancing. One woman and her girlfriends made up a dance. Once Rita joined in, everyone else did too.

“It was great to see so many smiles,” Carolyn says. “For the next party, we’ll get a DJ!”

Rita Adams (left) dances with Leah Fuld, at the Valentine's party. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Rita Adams (left) dances with Leah Fuld. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Grace Wynne, Rita Adams, Sydney Malkin and Shirley Mellor enjoy the Valentine's party. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Grace Wynne, Rita Adams, Sydney Malkin and Shirley Mellor enjoy the Valentine’s party. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Girlfriends of all ages get together at the Senior Center. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Girlfriends of all ages get together at the Senior Center. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)