Food, friendship served up at senior center
New fitness programs added
As she sat at the table early Monday after playing a six-handed game of canasta at the De Soto Senior Center, Mary Bichelmeyer noted many of the card players were widows or widowed.
"We're the Lonely Club," said Bichelmeyer, the center's site administrator.
"No. We're the Come Here and Don't Be Lonely Club," Richard Dikeman quickly corrected, grabbing Bichelmeyer by the arm.
"See what I'd miss if I didn't come here?" said Maxine Jackson, joining in the laughter.
Laughter comes easy from the center regulars who stay after the noon meal for a daily game of cards.
It's all part of what makes the center important to them, the card players said. The weekday meals are good but what keeps them coming back is the companionship.
Dikeman is one of the newest regulars. He started making a habit of coming when his wife of 40 years, Margaret, died in September after "a long, hard battle" with cancer. He spends time with his grown daughters and their families in Olathe, but Dikeman said his Oak Manor home was now "awful big."
"It's therapy," he said of the senior center. "I eat and help out."
Never one to overlook an asset, Bichelmeyer soon pressed Dikeman, a Navy submarine veteran and retiree from the textile industry at which he did "a lot of inventing."
"The poor guy didn't know what he was getting into," Bichelmeyer said. "You wouldn't believe what I have him doing."
The center serves an average of 20 meals a day to noontime visitors and serves as the base for the local home-delivered meal program that brings weekday meals to 25 De Soto shut-ins.
The meals are prepared off site by the Johnson County Nutrition Program, which administers the county senior nutrition and meals on wheels programs. Delivered daily to the center, Bichelmeyer and her volunteers serve up the food with coffee and other drinks -- and sometimes more.
"We sometimes add a little something," she said. "Today, we had sauerkraut."
Bichelmeyer would like more De Soto seniors to make a habit of visiting the center. As enticement, the center has recently added a couple of fitness programs. Chair exercise classes are available after the meal Monday and Barbara Garrison is offering massages for $5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This all compliments the monthly music program the senior center makes available once a month courtesy of Bichelmeyer's son Gary Bichelmeyer and his friends with the Kansas Oldtime Fiddlers, Pickers and Singers music club.
With the music-loving Bichelmeyer, the day doesn't end with the closing of the center in mid-afternoon. She gathers friends to hear her son play throughout the area.
"That keeps the senior citizens circulating," she said.