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Saying goodbye: Seniors prepare to trade old center for new

As Jonesborough seniors prepare to move into their brand-new, state-of-the-art Senior Center next week, there is more than a little sadness mixed with the joy.
“This is home,” said Jean Blackmore of the current center on Persimmon Ridge Road. “This place has been a life changer for me.”
Blackmore said that she had retired and was sitting at home, not knowing exactly what she was missing, but knowing there was something. Then she joined a Senior Center water aerobics class.
“It just snowballed from there,” Blackmore said. “Now I’m on the Center’s Advisory Board.”
“It’s the people here,” she added. “It’s just like family.”
Blackmore isn’t alone in her feelings. Senior Center Director Mary Sanger said she soon found that members who had been coming to the building on Persimmon Ridge Road didn’t see old walls and outdated fixtures, but a warm place filled with friends.
“The seniors here have certainly outgrown it,” Sanger said. “But this is kind of like your childhood home. There are 20 years worth of memories here.”
Zel Hester is another senior looking at the upcoming move with some trepidation.
“I’ve have mixed emotions,” Hester said. “As you can see when you walk in here, everyone is together. You can talk to everybody. The way the new building is set up, you’re not going to have that.”
“But I’m excited about the size of the building,” she admitted. “That is going to be amazing. I just hope we don’t lose the family feeling.”
Keeping the strong sense of community that pervades the Persimmon Ridge building is a top priority for Blackmore and Hester, as well as the Senior Center staff as they enter the much larger Main Street center.
“The new center is so big. A lot of people are afraid we’ll lose that feeling,” Blackmore said. “We must work at it to make sure it works.”
A newly implemented, new member monthly reception is one way seniors are trying to ensure the sense of welcome remains. Hester and Blackmore are also convinced that the people who made the Persimmon Ridge Center such a treasure in terms of companionship can also make the new center a success.
“Everything is going to be new,” Hester said. “And we will have a gathering room where we can do things and we can gather all together. I think once people learn their way around, we’ll still be OK.”
Of course, some members remain delighted — with few concerns — about the expanded space.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Billie Bennett, who has been attending the center for about six years.
Wanda Willis, a member for nearly 20 years, sees the move as a good thing — and is looking forward to singing at the new center, as well as possibly at some expanded visits to local nursing homes.
“I’ve been singing since I was 12 years old,” she said.
Susan Marshal, who has been coming to the center for a couple of years now, is thrilled to be able to exercise away from all the crowds.
“I feel uncomfortable when I wear certain outfits and (exercise in front of the other people),” she admitted with a smile.
Diane Barker, quilting in one corner of the center, longs for a little peace and quiet.
“We can’t concentrate with all this,” she said. Barker and her fellow quilters are anxious to see what type of a room they will have in the new center.
“I hope that we will have a good room to quilt in,” said Frances Campbell, who has been coming to the center for about 10 years. “I like to quilt. And I like to play Rook on Tuesday night.”
Some seniors are simply concerned about the change, and that it may not live up to expectations.
“I am apprehensive about it,” admitted Gene Long. “I don’t think it’s going to be what people think it is.”
Still others, like Hester, remain optimistic, if a bit nostalgic, as the move nears.
“I’m just proud of our town,” she said. “I think it’s phenomenal that a town the size of Jonesborough has pushed to do this. It’s a tribute to the area and the town that they’ve stuck to their guns and that they are going to get this done.”
Steve Salfen, another quilter, agreed. “It’s been a long time on the drawing board,” Salfen said. “It’s been a long time coming, and we deserve it.”