BELPRE - After almost a year of construction, the expansion of the Belpre Senior Center was unveiled for the first time in a ceremony Wednesday.
Susie Casto, director of the Belpre Senior Center, said the expansion, which added 1,500 square feet to the center, has been in the works for five years and it came at the right time.
"It has taken a long line of supporters to get us to this day and it will take a strong line to keep the momentum going," Casto said. "This expansion could not have come at a better time as 28 percent of Belpre's population is now 65 plus."
Photo by Jeffrey Saulton
On hand for the ribbon cutting of the new addition to the Belpre Senior Center are, from left, Karen Waller, executive director of the Belpre Chamber of Commerce; Donna Jean Williamson, chaplain of the Belpre Senior Club; Dave Ferguson, safety-service director of the City of Belpre; Burl Moore; Norma Kemp, treasurer of the Belpre Senior Club; Susie Casto, director of the Belpre Senior Center; Sonia Ramsey, president of the Belpre Senior Club; Bob Stephens, president of the McDonough Foundation; Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz; Washington County commissioners Ron Feathers and David White and Jon Neff, president of the Belpre Chamber of Commerce.
Casto said the center has come a long way from its beginnings on Main Street. She said the current building was built on the edge of Howes Grove Park in May 1977.
In 2012, about 300 individuals participated 12,150 times in programs and events held at the center to help keep them HIP (healthy, independent and productive).
Casto said the new room will house the pool table, chair volleyball, Tai Chi and low-impact aerobics. There will be meetings and events held here since it will be available to be rented out to organizations and members of the community."
Casto said when she thinks of the programs and services offered at the center she is reminded of the story of the tombstone dashes.
"It's not what matters about when you were born or when you died or when the project starts and the project ends," she said. "What matters is what happens in between the dashes and what counts is the difference we make in between the dashes."
Casto said she knows from success stories that the center has made a difference in Belpre.
"We have many stories of improving health, coping with loneliness, sharing laughter as well as sharing each others burdens, that the Belpre Senior Center makes the difference," she said.
Costs of the roughly $130,000 expansion are being paid for with funds from the city, Washington County Senior Levy, the Belpre Community Foundation, the Bernard McDonough Foundation, the Marietta Community Foundation and the Belpre Senior Club.
Bob Stephens, a Belpre native and president of the McDonough Foundation, said the namesake of the foundation was also from Belpre.
"He went to public schools here and he delivered papers as a boy in Belpre," he said. "When there were gas lights in downtown Belpre, he lit them at dusk every evening and extinguished them every morning at dawn. He wasn't born with money, but was a hard-working entrepreneur who did a wonderful job."
Stephens said the foundation was created by Bernard McDonough to make sure good works he was involved in would continue past his death.
"We're thrilled at the McDonough Foundation to be a part of the work here at the senior center," he said. "I'm so impressed with what you have accomplished. If there was ever a center that needed additional room for the seniors, it's here."
Stephens said now they do not have to take down tables or move items around for activities.
"You can have your activities in that beautiful facility with high ceilings so you can play chair volleyball and other activities," he said. "We did the easy part; we provided the funds. You had the dreams, the tenacity and commitment to see it done."
Casto recognized two people who have a connection between the original center and the current center.
She said Norma Kemp, who is the longtime treasurer for the club, is the daughter of Glen McCoy and the niece of Howard McCoy, founders of the center on Main Street.
Burl Moore was representing his brother Perry, who gave the land in Howes Grove as a senior center in memory of Miss Persis Putnam-Howe. Casto said Burl had his own contracting business, Burl Moore Builders, that constructed the fireplace in the center.
Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz said the additional space adds a new dimension to the center.
"It's no longer a place just to congregate and have lunch,' he said. "So with the exercise classes, the computer classes, the health and lifestyle classes and so forth it just wasn't working in one room."
Lorentz said the planning covered many years and a concerted effort has been made in the last four years. Lorentz said the city will be able to have an additional meeting space outside of the city council chambers or one of the schools or churches.
"It won't just benefit the seniors, but the community as a whole," he said.