Vicki Venolia leads an aerobics class at North Middle School on Wednesday morning in Everett. The Carl Gipson Senior Center is closed for renovations, leaving several programs to find new homes for the summer. The center is scheduled to reopen at the end of August. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Displaced senior center groups find new homes

EVERETT — A visitor to a stretching and toning class at North Middle School gets a loud welcome.

The dozen or so women join hands in a circle around the newcomer, rush in and let out a loud “Woooo!” cheer.

The women — all members of the Carl Gipson Senior Center of Everett — then settle into a friendly exercise session.

The senior center closed July 5 so new bathrooms could be installed. It’s not expected to reopen until Aug. 29.

That meant accommodations needed to be made for as many as 300 men and women who walk through the center’s doors each day.

It’s led to a little confusion.

“We’ve had a few people who have never been here before try to walk in through the door, even though there’s big ol’ construction signs everywhere,” said Debra Loughrey-Johnson, the center’s director.

Some of the Senior Center’s programs take the summer off anyway, but others couldn’t find a home and had to be canceled.

Regular Sunday dances, for example, were nixed. So was the table tennis club.

“It’s the logistics of moving five very heavy tables to another building,” said Howard Grossman, 79, the club’s resident table tennis coach and a nationally ranked player for his age group.

The tables cost about $2,000 each, Grossman said, and the club decided they didn’t want to risk damaging them. It was easier just to close down for the summer.

He still drives to the Crossroads Table Tennis Club in Bellevue to play, but he said most other senior center members probably aren’t able to do that.

“A lot of the senior players, now that we’re closed, probably aren’t playing that much,” Grossman said.

Other programs found new homes for the summer. Creative writing classes and party bridge games went to the library, clogging and hula classes are meeting in private homes.

Other classes were hosted by various senior homes in town. The aerobics classes were held in the Everett Plaza senior facility before moving to the school.

Instructor Vicki Venolia said her classes, including the stretching and toning class, have shrunk a little since the senior center closed, but otherwise things have been progressing much the same.

“Just being summer, there’s people with second homes or traveling, or spending time in the garden,” Venolia said.

Relocating to the Everett Plaza for two weeks exposed the class to some of the residents for the first time, and at least one person joined the class as a result.

“We have been so fortunate with our hosts in the neighborhood,” Venolia said.

The change has some drawbacks. It’s a much longer walk back to the auxiliary gym at the school than it was in the Senior Center, especially for those whose mobility is impaired.

Venolia has one student who is 90, arrives by paratransit bus and uses a walker to get around.

“There she is with the gumption, the motivation to not stop exercising. That would be easy not to do right now,” Venolia said.

That student didn’t show up Wednesday, but about a dozen others did. They joked and talked during their exercises. Subjects included fellow Senior Center member Larry Carter and the free library he carved in a tree on Wetmore Avenue and hiring the Men in Kilts window cleaning service for the center.

In all it’s a high-energy group that is as much social as it is about fitness.

Ruth Madden, who is 83 and joined the center 19 years ago, still comes in even though she now lives in Mill Creek.

“I didn’t want to quit this one, because you get to know people and I’m having fun,” Madden said.

Pat Stack is one of the newest members. Her first class was Wednesday.

“I was doing crossfit and I thought I was going to have a heart attack, so I think I needed something calmer,” Stack said.

The volume level dropped significantly once the stretching and toning class ended and the yoga class began.

The only sounds were Venolia’s iPod playing relaxing music and her low-key instructions as she led a smaller group through various positions. No talking was allowed, unlike in the previous class.

“There’s some of them I’d like to get in here to see if they can do it,” Venolia joked.

Back at the Senior Center, Loughrey-Johnson still comes to work at the center. A complete list of rescheduled events is posted online and at the center, but she said this has been a good time to catch up on some work.

“Anything we’ve never been able to get to, as far as files or finding our desks, or writing up new procedures,” she said. “We’re working.”

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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