Sam Vickers just turned 90 years old, but that number hasn’t slowed him down a bit. The Mansfield resident still builds wooden rocking horses for his grandkids, takes regular trips to historic sites and museums to relive his days working on submarines for General Dynamics, and plays cards with his friends once a week. Most importantly, he starts every weekday with a stop at the Mansfield Activities Center to participate in the Senior Lifestyles program.
"The first time I came, my wife and I, we were retired and just didn’t have anything else to do," says Vickers. "We were new to the area and wanted to meet some people. And I’ve been coming ever since."
‘Ever since’ for Vickers is almost three decades, one of the longest tenures in the Senior Center, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. At the time it was created the community of less than 8000 didn’t have much, but the leaders understood the importance of providing a safe place for its older residents to gather. An old house off Broad Street was dedicated, and programs like bingo, cards, parties and more began almost immediately.
The Senior Center, which now operates as Senior Lifestyles out of the Mansfield Activities Center, has grown considerably since the early days, with regular daily attendance averaging around 75-100 visitors, and over 300 different programs offered each year, from volleyball to arts and crafts. Notable improvements over the years have included two accessible buses that can transport visitors to and from home, or on any number of day trips the center sponsors, which have included air shows and shopping to museums and nature centers. The MAC gymnasium gives space for special events like Senior Citizen’s Day and weekly Walk & Talk exercise classes. Another important addition was the partnership with Tarrant County’s Senior Citizens Program, Sixty and Better, which helps provide low to no cost meals for members. In the last year, over six thousand hot meals were served to seniors in Mansfield. Equipment, facilities and programs have improved, but the community spirit that motivated the program in the first place is still alive and thriving.
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Lenora Fike, 82, has been a regular since 1986 and remembers the early days fondly. "We didn’t have a lot of space," says Mrs. Fike. "But we made our own fun! One year, for our annual Western Day party, another member made stick horses and we had a race around the yard. This was where my husband and I spent so many of our best days, and made so many of our very best friends."
In good times, and in bad, the fellowship of the Senior Center has been there.
"After my husband passed, coming back here was like salvation," said Mrs. Fike. "I was able to be with the people who knew and loved him too, and many of whom had also lost someone. They understood, and they were there for me."
Suzanne Newman has been the coordinator of the Senior Lifestyles program for the City of Mansfield for the last 17 years and says the success of the program has been a team effort.
"We’ve absolutely lasted this long because we have a dedicated staff that really cares about the program," said Newman. "When you have people that care and enjoy their job they work harder, and it shows. Between the staff here at the MAC, the city leadership and the seniors themselves, it truly is one big happy family. It means a lot to go home each day, knowing I’ve made a difference in their lives, even if it was just making them smile for that one day."
Mansfield’s City Manager Clayton Chandler has been serving since 1984, almost since the center opened, and affirms the city’s longtime support of the programs. "Our seniors are vital to who we are as a community," said Chandler. "They represent that all important tie to the history and heritage of our community. Accordingly, the Senior Services Program is one of the most vital services that we provide."
Services that will, by all accounts, only continue to grow and thrive over the next 40 years.
"One of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years is the commitment of the seniors themselves," said Newman. "They’re out there pounding the pavement for us; whether it’s fundraising or just spreading the word about the programs, they want to see us grow and succeed just as much as we do."
Leonora Fike agrees.
"I hope the senior center will still be here in 40 more years, and continue to have the support of the city leaders and community that we enjoy now," says Mrs. Fike. "It’s so much more than classes or games. It helps your mind stay active, and you can’t feel sorry for yourself when you’re surrounded by people who are concerned about you and want only to make your day brighter. Being active in the senior center helps me see the bigger picture; it makes me want to do more, just as so many others here have done for me."
Mansfield Senior Lifestyles will celebrate the 40th anniversary as part of their annual New Year’s Eve party on Friday, December 29 from 9am-12pm. Former members and loved ones are invited to stop by and share a snack and a fond memory with staff and current members. For more information, contact program coordinator Suzanne Newman at the Mansfield Activities Center, 817-728-3680 or visit them online https://www.mansfieldtexas.gov/senior-lifestyles.