Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — The Franklin County Senior Center served its first holiday meal on Thanksgiving Day in 1967.
Although 18 people had signed up, 10 attended: Mr. and Mrs. John Hojaboom, Mr. and Mrs. William Young, Mrs. C.E. Sabins, Mrs. Rose Warner, Mr. and Mrs. Fernand Verret and Fredrick Preston.
On Monday, the center served its most recent holiday meal, a New Year’s dinner to a packed house at its current home on Messenger Street.
At Christmas, the center served 100 people.
The center first opened its doors on Oct. 15, 1967 at 100 South Main St. previously home to Bray’s IGA, which had moved to 72 South Main.
The Messenger reported the main room of the new center was spacious and “arranged as a sitting room with several easy chairs, a colored television set, an AM and FM radio, and plenty of reading material.” There were card tables and a full kitchen.
Attendees who planned to stay for lunch were encouraged to bring their own sandwich, but the center provided soup, cookies and coffee or tea.
Currently, the center provides serves a full lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the other area organizations and businesses stepping in on Mondays. There is also a coffee hour on Thursdays at 8 a.m.
Volunteers, many of who are senior citizens themselves, prepare the meals.
Mary Guyette, 85, assisted with cooking Monday’s meal. “I went to school here. My kids did, too,” she said of the Messenger Street School, which became the center’s home in 1970. What is now the kitchen and dining area was once the first grade classroom, said Guyette.
Claire Menard, 80, of Sheldon, cooked meals at the center for years, handling all the planning and shopping. Now she volunteers occasionally. The kitchen was remodeled in 1997 and now has a stove designed for professionals. Menard remembers cooking when the center had two regular kitchen stoves side by side.
Another alumni of the Messenger Street School, June Therrien, said she came to the center one day for lunch after the Solo, previously Fonda, plant closed its doors in 2006. She and Guyette worked at the factory for 35 years.
Therrien said she and a friend “just pitched in.” She’s been helping serve meals here ever since.
“There’s some really decent people here,” said Therrien, who clearly enjoyed teasing Dennis Getty, who works at the center. Getty handles meal planning and food purchasing along with other duties.
In addition to the meals served in-house, the center is the home of the local Meals on Wheels program, delivering food to homebound seniors and the disabled in the St. Albans area.
The meals are prepared at Northwestern Medical Center and delivered by volunteer drivers to 63 people in the St. Albans area. Other towns have their own programs, explained Jim Coutts, executive director of the center.
Delivering the meals each weekday requires 30 volunteer drivers and the center is currently looking for volunteers. “Each route is less than 10 miles round trip,” said Coutts adding that each takes less than an hour to complete.
Coutts believes 2014 was the fiftieth anniversary of meals being delivered to the elderly in St. Albans. The Messenger has been unable to find records to confirm this, but Coutts reports Jim Bray, who owned Bray’s IGA along with his wife, Dorothy, were delivering meals in St. Albans before the federal Meals on Wheels program began.
“It think it was very, very quiet,” said Coutts. “It was something he just did on his own.”
Coutts said he believes members of the Live Wires, the senior club also responsible for founding the senior center, assisted Bray.
To continue that history by volunteering to deliver meals, contact the Franklin County Senior Center at 524-6616.