Galloway Township's new Senior Center has been discussed for years, and working toward its opening has not always been easy.
There were struggles with funding, struggles with asbestos clean-up, struggles with finding the right location, but finally, after years of planning and work, the renovated building and new Senior Center was opened on Saturday morning in a ribbon cutting ceremony that brought together Galloway's senior citizens, council members, county freeholders and Mayor Don Purdy, who cut the ribbon.
The center, which was funded completely through state grants that Atlantic County received then provided to Galloway Township, is located at the corner of Carton Avenue and the White Horse Pike—the building was built in 1950 and housed American Legion Post 430 until 2008, when, with a dwindling membership, the legion moved to a smaller location.
The building was then purchased by the township and plans were underway to renovate the location into a new senior center—the grant monies allowed for a certain amount to be spent each year, so when the money for each year ran out, the work had to stop, according to Purdy.
This made the project take longer than it might have otherwise, but with state grant money funding the project, Galloway residents were not paying for the project directly.
"I was wondering if I'd be alive to see it," said Hermine Dey, an 89-year-old Galloway resident who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.
For many of Galloway's residents, the building is a special place. It housed not only the American Legion for decades, but also many Boy Scout troops—Atlantic County Freeholder Rich Dase, a former Galloway Township Councilman, spoke of using the building as a Boy Scout.
There were wedding receptions held in the building, Sunday breakfasts with the legion, dances, box-car races and various other events. Many of the same senior citizens who will use the newly renovated center were among the community leaders who organized these events.
For Helen Schairer, her husband Anthony and her sister-in-law Rose, the building holds an especially important place in their lives: Two of Helen and Anthony's children held wedding receptions there and Anthony helped build the building. He was also a member of the legion, attending various events and collecting door money at Sunday breakfasts.
"I miss the old building," said Anthony Schairer. "I spent 40 years there; I helped to build it too."
The family's association with the building runs so deep that the game room used to be called the Schairer Room.
Helen Schairer was impressed with the design of the new building—with large, open windows to let in the sun and bright green walls, the Senior Center feels inviting and open. She said that the old building, now that she sees the renovations, was dark and did need work, although, because she was used to it, she had not noticed at the time.
"We've been waiting for it to open," said Helen. "It's wonderful...if they came to that dingy place, imagine how many people will come here."
The center welcomes not only Galloway's senior citizens, but even senior citizens from surrounding towns. As for who will run the center—that will be the senior citizens themselves.
During Mayor Don Purdy's speech, he said that senior citizens are to create their own committee for the center.
"Let the seniors run their own center," he said. "Smaller government is better. Let the people run their own show."
Upkeep of the building will fall onto the township, but, according to Purdy, there will also be grant money available for maintenance and, he said, the building, with its new air conditioning and heating systems, new floors and freshly painted walls, was designed to be easily maintained.
Many of the senior citizens in attendance on Saturday said they want to see the center become a place to socialize. Joyce and Robert Moore were among those at the ribbon cutting. Joyce was hoping they would hold bingo, arts and crafts events, movies, games and dinner dances.
Galloway Township Council Member Brian Tyrell said he envisions the center as a place where generations can come together, with younger people helping to facilitate events and with senior citizens interacting and sharing some of their wisdom with the township's youth.
Bill Land of the Rotary Club said that part of his organization's mission will be to help with funding at the Senior Center. In May, they held a township yard sale and proceeds from that event were used to help with the renovations. Another township yard sale is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Land said that, with governments hurting economically, he hopes the community can pick up and assist in projects like the new Senior Center.
"My feeling was that with budget crunches in government that it was a good time for the Rotary to step into the vacuum," he said. "My hope is to try to get citizens to take up our causes; to help us fill in those gaps."
Any senior citizens interested in joining the committee for the Senior Center should contact Township Manager Arch Liston.