By Bob Bohlken, Ph.D.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you are interested in more specifics and a pictorial representation of the history of the Nodaway County Senior Center, I suggest that you peruse Amie Firavich’s professional quality scrapbooks. The two volumes may be found on the center’s library table.  If you have had family involved in the evolution of the center, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity.

On April 2, 2017, the Nodaway County Senior Center celebrated the purchase of the building and property that had recently been renovated to provide Nodaway County with “top of the line” dining and recreation facilities. It has been “a long row to hoe” from the initial meager and crowded facilities involving government agencies, local committees, charitable groups and most of all, individual caring citizens.

Initially, the Northwest Missouri Area Agency on Aging contracted the Nodaway County Council on aging, a volunteer group, to provide a senior center/nutritional site. The site began as part of the conference room in the Margaret Davison complex and then in the late 1970s the site was moved to the building at 216 W. Third St., south of the Christian Church. The building was shared with the Community Service agencies. This facility was not only crowded but also gave the impression that the senior center was a welfare agency intended only for the “elderly financially disadvantaged folks.”

In 1979 Rose Treese, who in 1985 became Mrs. Larry Vance, was hired to manage and administrate the congregate and home delivered meals. Rose, the mother of the center, operated in a very small space with only one refrigerator and one stove. According to Treese, money and space were “hard to come by.”

In 1984, Mr. Dick Haynes became president of the Nodaway County Senior Citizen Senate (board) and he realized that a larger and adequate space for the senior center needed to be found. Mr. Haynes had reputation, credibility and contacts for financial negotiations. He was 68 years old at the time. He had graduated from Skidmore High School in 1933 and the University of Missouri with a degree in agriculture in 1940. In World War II, he served in the military as a veterinarian assistant in China, Burma and India where horses and mules were essential for navigating the mountain terrain. He was honorably discharged and married Maxine McClurg, a local lady, in 1946. Mr. Haynes farmed the “Mile Long Farm” where he raised feeder cattle. He was the farm program instructor at Maryville High School, served as manager of the local ASCS office and served as the sales clerk with Merrigan Livestock Auction Company.

While searching for a suitable site to locate the senior center, Mr. Haynes organized a committee to raise money for the purchase and adaptation of the potential facility. Through his association with Col. Merrigan, he developed the opportunity to locate a lunch trailer at the various auction sites to serve the auction patrons. Forty volunteers built, stocked and operated the “Wiener Wagon” with the supervision of Rose Vance. Mr. Haynes credits Rose and the volunteers: Francis Heflin, Edgar Ditamore, Norma Mattes, Dwight Gates, Altha Bird and Kay Whitney for helping him make the “Wiener Wagon” a financial success.

According to Francis Heflin, in 1987 the Nodaway Senior Citizens Senate purchased the building that formally housed “Jerry’s Market,” located at 1210 East First Street, the center’s current location. The building was “gutted” and remodeled by more than 50 volunteers, supervised by Dick Haynes, Laverne Kling, Edgar Ditamore and Al Bowman. Secured by Dick Haynes, the loan from Nodaway Valley Bank to purchase and remodel the building was paid off in two years. Realizing the need for parking space, Mr. Haynes’ family and friends provided the collateral to purchase and clear two lots east and south of the building for the center’s parking. The loan was paid off by the time of Mr. Haynes’ death on May 31, 1992. In 1989 the Nodaway County Senior Center began the outreach program that had volunteers delivering hot meals to shut-in elderly. During the 1990s, Rose Vance served as the paid administrator, along with three paid kitchen employees: Ramona Brodrick, Carol Keever and Rose Allen. Margaret Palmer joined the paid kitchen staff in the late 1990s as the “head cook.”  (I remember Margaret for her caring commitment and her “made from scratch” cinnamon rolls. Altha Bird remembers Margaret by stating, “No one could fix ‘liver and onions’ like Margaret.”) Angela Edick replaced Margaret as head cook. From 1993 to 2007, Helen Gorsuch served as president of the Nodaway County Senior Center Board. During that time, Opal Eckert, Gilbert Whitney, Ed Klaas, Harley Lamb, Clara Schenkel, Howard Comer, Edgar Ditamore, Clyde Gragg, Verna Mae Coker, Marge Clayton, Mildred Klaas, Hazel Madden, Altha Bird and Martha Cooper served on the board.   

In the year 2000, Nodaway County passed a bond issue that established a Senior Citizen Fund based on a tax of five cents per one hundred dollars of assessed property evaluation. With this revenue fund in place, the operation of the “Wiener Wagon” was discontinued, but Francis and Mary Rose Heflin continued to volunteer their time and effort along with Dorothy Schafer and approximately 50 other volunteers. In 2007, Rose Vance retired as the Nodaway County Senior Center’s administrator after 30 years of dedicated service. Amie Firavich replaced Rose as the administrator.

In 2014, Administrator Amie Firavich and the board began discussion about remodeling the 25-year-old facility that now had the dark and damaged institutional appearing walls and inconvenient serving line in a narrow hall next to a window to the kitchen that allowed only one table at a time. The goal of the remodeling was to “open up a modern looking facility” to encourage card playing and table recreational activities as well as a more pleasant dining atmosphere, plus updating the organization of the kitchen and separating the kitchen from the home delivery facility.  

The frugality of Rose and Amie provided the funds from a portion of the Senior Citizen Tax fund along with a grant from the Rickard Foundation to do the remodeling. Amie and board members Larry Cady, Floyd Hook and Jerry Solheim met with construction facilitator and supervisor Jeff Smith to plan piece-meal constructions that would fulfill the goals. Board members Larry Cady, Delores Collins, Ed Schieber, Floyd Hook, Marilyn Holaday, Nina Miller, Jerome Solheim, Linda Girard and Bob Bohlken approved the expenditures.

Today, the facilities are utilized from 8 a.m. until closing at 4 p.m. and then frequently rented. The Nodaway County Senior Center no longer is perceived as a dining place for the elderly financially disadvantaged and/or handicapped, but as a reasonably priced dining place and recreation parlor for all 60-years-or-older patrons. Unfortunately, the Nodaway County Senior Center has been denied funding by the Northwest Missouri Area Agency on Aging, the distributor of State and Federal Funds for county nutritional sites. This denial is the first in the history of the Nodaway County Senior Center’s request for funds. This arbitrary action has necessitated the center to charge $5 per meal instead of by patron’s donations to meet the $7 cost of preparing each meal. The center has reached out for funds beyond the amounts provided by the Nodaway County Senior Citizen Tax Funds and the United Way’s support. 

Thanks to the many people quoted: Amie Firavich, Francis Heflin and Mary Bohlken.