Older Americans Month is recognized each May across the country to promote the physical, mental and emotional well-being of senior citizens. Old age can be one of the loneliest phases of life — but it doesn’t have to be. Every weekday at the Brownwood Senior Citizens Center, locals over 60 reject isolation and gather for food, activities and community.
According to center director Angie Dees, over 120 seniors visit the downtown facility every single day. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., the center contains a library, a pool table, exercise machines, games and a cafeteria. A quick scan of the May activity calendar reveals several days of bingo games, door prizes, “42” tournaments and various themed days like “no socks day,” “straw hat day” and the delicious-sounding “national vanilla puddin’ day.”
“We provide coffee and toast for them in the mornings,” Dees said. “They come here and play bingo or do puzzles or card games.
“All the bingo is free for the senior citizens. The nursing facilities in our area, they help out by calling bingo one day each month and they provide all the prizes. We just do all sorts of things around here,” she said.
In fact, the only service that’s not totally free at the center is the daily noon meal. For seniors, the suggested donation is $2 per meal — just $10 a week. The general public, which is welcome to visit seniors at the center, can also eat lunch for $3.25 per meal.
The May menu, which is posted every day on the center’s Facebook page, featured entrees like chicken cordon bleu, meatloaf, chicken enchiladas, fried catfish and lasagna. Every meal is prepared on-site by the center’s three-person team of cooks.
The cooks prepare an additional 130 meals for home delivery every day as well, reaching homebound or ill seniors who can’t make it to the center. “They get the same meal that we have here,” Dees said. “We cook twice a day. We start early in the morning to cook for home delivery, and they get the exact same thing we serve here. And then as soon as they’re done with the first go-around, they’ll start cooking again.”
Dees said it’s important for seniors to have a gathering space. “We’re getting to the point now where our seniors are getting older and older. We have a 102-year-old gentleman here, and someone just celebrated their 99th birthday,” Dees said. “They need the camaraderie. They need to socialize with other people. These people who come here are still able to go out to the doctor’s office and the grocery store and come here, but they may not have anybody at home.
“They’re not just getting food here. They’re getting friendships,” she said.
Many seniors begin visiting the center once they have lost a spouse. Sometimes, Dees said, they even meet their next husband or wife there. That’s what happened to Linda Gifford and Art Lancaster, who met at the center and will be married this summer.
Gifford and Lancaster knew of each other, having grown up in Brown County at the same time. But they were never properly introduced until Lancaster started visiting the center in February.
Gifford said she arrives at the center almost every morning around 8 and says until after lunch. “It is very good,” she said. “I lost my husband two years ago … and all the people here are so friendly. It has really helped me.”
“I didn’t realize that she was coming here,” Lancaster said. “It’s been a great help, because I was still pretty well depressed from when I lost my wife in October of last year. [Gifford] has helped me, and everybody else here has helped pull me out because they’ve been in the same situation I was in.”
Curtis Butler, also a widower, has been going to the center for a little over a year. “I have a lot of friends who invited me to come down, and one day I decided to take them up on it,” Butler said. “My wife passed away, and it gets a little lonely sometimes.”
Butler appreciates the center for the daily blessings said over meals — the blessing duties rotate among regulars — and for the small but dedicated staff.
“It’s shocking, because the other towns that have these, they’re not near up to par with this one,” Butler said. “I know how hard they work to make it that way. It’s not easy.”
He said he enjoys the association, and the chance to talk to people his own age. Dees said many regulars end up eating lunch each day at the same spot with the same group of friends. “This becomes their family,” Dees said. “They come down here and stay with their family, and it helps them so much.”
The Brownwood Senior Citizens Center is supported by the West Central Texas Council of Governments, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the City of Brownwood. It is located at 110 S. Greenleaf St. behind the Brownwood Coliseum.