When I was still working, I would see them in the small gym at the Y — older people at folding tables — and walk quickly by. I had taken to swimming laps at noon to give myself a break in the middle of the day. You can’t be interrupted in the pool.
After I retired, I kept swimming at noon. Habit, I guess. The lifeguard, as I was leaving one day, said, “We’re having our senior potluck Friday. You can bring a dish to pass or not, but you’re invited.”
Senior potluck? I wasn’t ready to be a senior. But that was six years ago.
This fall I went to the senior potluck to talk to Y members who attend and find out what brings them.
I talked to Allen Tucek, who joined the Y four years ago. Allen grew up in LaGrange. After he retired, he moved back to Illinois from Phoenix and was drawn to Ottawa.
“I’d been here before, years ago. But it changed so much. I like it. And I like the Y a lot.”
Allen exercises on his own, sometime five days a week.
“I loosen up on the treadmill, ride the bike, and then come into this gym and shoot baskets.”
“I shot some baskets when I first retired," I said. "My shot is pretty different these days.”
“I know what you mean. I was manager on the Lyons Township High School team that won the state championship in 1970. I’ve always had a thing for basketball.”
“You were a senior in 1970?”
Allen is a year younger than me.
Pam Gatewood found the YMCA when her insurer notified her of the Silver Sneakers program. She had brought her kids to the Y for swimming lessons 40 years ago but never considered it for herself. Pam started slowly, but when she attended a Silver Sneakers class, she found friends there whom she never knew were members. Now she comes five days a week, and those same friends walk together after class.
I talked to Mary Levy, whom I know from yoga classes. Mary is part of a small group of teachers who lead Silver Sneakers classes.
“Silver Sneakers is an exercise that is chair based,” she explained. “We do cardio warm up, stretching, some weights. At times we use resistance bands, and we exercise with balls. Almost all our classes revolve around music, movement, and dance. We also work in some chair yoga. You should try it, Dave. It’s a workout. You’d be surprised.”
Maggie Lumbert used to come to the Silver Sneakers class a lot before her husband took ill, then stayed home to care for him. After he passed, a friend from church, Cathy Gresham, had recovered from an injury and said she needed to walk, to get out and do something. She approached Maggie with a proposition.
“Tell you what, Maggie. If you join the Y, I’ll join.”
They did. Now they come to class three times a week. In June, it will be a year since they started. Sitting beside each other, they reported they feel so much better now that they are more active. Judging from their smiles, I believed them.
It was good to see a familiar face. My golf buddy, Bob Kovash, was there with his wife, Sue. I didn’t expect to see him.
“Juice, you’re part of this?” Juice is his nickname. Maybe now you know who I’m talking about.
“Yeah. We found out our insurance company pays for most of this. Pretty good deal.”
“You go to the classes?”
“No. Sue goes to the classes. While she’s there I hit the exercise room up front, do the treadmill, ride the bike. Then I go down into the weight room and lift some weights.”
“You bulking up, Juice?”
“No, just trying to keep what I got. I just want to hit my tee shot more than 200 yards when spring comes.”
Juice has a great laugh. He also has a white beard and artificial knees. We have a lot in common. I never figured Juice to be a Y guy. But everything changes, I guess.
After we were done eating, the Y staff began to talk about what we might want to do as a group. I should say he talked to them. I was just there to observe. They discussed game days, euchre tournaments, outings to the Chicago area to see plays, renting a bus. There was more interest than I imagined. I never saw the Y as a provider of programming to seniors, but there they were, finding out what we — I mean, they — wanted, finding ways to deliver it, creating community among the many seniors they serve.
There is so much more to the Y than meets the eye.
DAVE MCCLURE is a retired nonprofit agency director, now a board member of the Ottawa YMCA and other local organizations. He also writes from a shack in his backyard.