Blaine senior center celebrates 30 years of service

The Mary Ann Young Senior Center has evolved from its bricks-and-mortar roots to a heart-and-soul institution that continues to serve a growing population.

Shelley Johnson, Mary Ann Young senior center director, cuts the 30th anniversary cake prior to lunch being served. Photo by Tim Hennagir
Shelley Johnson, Mary Ann Young senior center director, cuts the 30th anniversary cake prior to lunch being served. Photo by Tim Hennagir

Past and present city leaders, volunteers and city staff joined with users Aug. 30 to celebrate the Blaine center’s long and colorful 30-year history of service.

Blaine’s center was built in 1982. Its original capacity was 2,976 square feet. Today, the center is 4,800 square feet and a vital role in area seniors’ daily lives.

Jim Kappelhoff, park and recreation director, supervises the center, which is funded by the city. Kappelhoff is assisted by Shelley Johnson, senior center director. Johnson has worked at the center for 16 years.

Johnson opened last week’s anniversary celebration by introducing Councilmember Dick Swanson, the city’s senior advisory council representative.

Swanson recognized Mayor Tom Ryan, a city council member during the center’s early years, and Jim Duevel, senior center advisory council chairman, who were unable to attend the Aug. 30 celebration because of prior commitments.

Swanson also recognized Ron Clark, another former city councilmember who was in attendance.

“Jim is one of the few city councilmembers left from the time that this building was created,” Swanson said during his brief remarks. “The other is Ron Clark.”

Blaine area seniors faced an uphill battle in the early 1980s when they pushed to change the location of the proposed senior center.

A hard-charging group of seniors quickly reacted when the Blaine City Council voted to build a center on city-owned property in Laddie Lake Park.

The seniors’ persistence paid off. The group forced a council commitment to build the center at its current site, in Aquatore Park, near the old Blaine City Hall.

According to a Oct. 23, 1981, story from ABC Newspapers, the seniors, many of whom were Blaine Senior Citizens Club members, had requested earlier that year the council should seek $40,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

The funds for a senior activity center were available from Anoka County.

Blaine was also entitled to approximately $170,000 from a U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant that would bring the county in excess of $2 million.

The 2,976 square-foot building was built at approximate cost of $103,000 by Keho Construction Co. in coordination with the city’s engineering department.

A combination of funds were provided from a Community Development Block Grant of approximately $75,000 as well as a Title III B Grant totaling $23,000.

During last week’s anniversary celebration, Kappelhoff provided additional history about the Mary Ann Young Senior Center during his celebration comments.

“This is a building, but it’s the hundreds of volunteers and our staff who make things happen at this center,” Kappelhoff said.

Planning for a Blaine senior center actually began in the late 1970s when councilmembers, city staff and seniors began discussing development ideas.

The Blaine Senior Club, organized in 1973, was instrumental in getting the initial center efforts rolling.

According to Kappelhoff, the Blaine center underwent several remodeling changes in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

In 1985, a north addition was built at the center, adding 1,200 square feet.

The multi-purpose area is currently used for a variety of activities and programs, Kappelhoff said.

In 1986, a patio was added to the center. The patio has become an outdoors hot spot for pork chop grilling provided by Ryan and Duevel, as well as the center’s annual pig roast.

In 1991, a kitchen addition added 624 square feet and in 1994, flooring, wall decorations and furniture were upgraded.

In 2002, a new roof, siding and windows were installed at the center.

Mary Ann Young was the first Volunteers of America food server at the center, Kappelhoff said.

VOA’s senior dining has remained an anchor program at the center since it opened. After Young died in 1994, the senior center was renamed in her honor.

“She was a champion of senior center services,” Kappelhoff said. “Mary Ann spent the next 10 years responding to the needs and interests of our seniors.”

JoEllen Lawler, Young’s daughter, also attended last Thursday’s celebration, which included a large cake sponsored and donated by Charles and Opal Boisjolie, in honor of their 60th wedding anniversary.

The center was also decorated with balloons and banners as well as a commemorative cross-stitch.

Johnson had a special celebration-ending message for Ann Genosky, senior center coordinator, who celebrated 25 years of working at the center this summer.

“She’s been my partner in crime all these years,” Johnson said. “She was going to try and pop in and be here today, but she had doctor’s orders to not do so.”

Genosky is currently undergoing cancer treatment.

Johnson read a message from Genosky that aptly described the center’s history and ongoing mission.

“We’ve been so lucky to have the great support from the city and wonderful employees. They make this center work,” Genosky wrote in her short letter to those in attendance.

“My job at the center has always been a gift,” Genosky wrote. I’ve made so many wonderful friendships, and I really treasure that. Even though I can’t physically be with you, my heart and spirit are there everyday. May we continue to grow and thrive, and continue to keep the center a vibrant and exciting place to be.”

Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]

  • Congratulations to all who make our senior center a vibrant and impactful place for community members to gather, socialize and lead fullfilling lives! Here’s to the next 30 years!