Mary Banister has been part of organizing every one of the 16 annual Anoka County Senior Expos. Over the years, it has blossomed into an event where hundreds of senior citizens come to learn about everything they need to know from housing to homecare, financial assistance and much more.
The Anoka County Senior Expo was first held in 1999 at the Coon Rapids Senior Center. As the event grew, organizers tried St. Stephen’s Parish in Anoka and the Fridley Senior Center before they made Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ramsey the home of the annual expo about 10 years ago, according to Banister.
“There were maybe 20 booths and 80 to 90 people (the first year). Now there are between 400 and 500 participants and 67 booths this year,” Banister said during the Saturday, April 5 expo during which people had to search for a parking space in the church’s massive lot.
By the following Monday morning, Banister knew that at least 529 people had gone to the three-hour senior expo.
How did she know this? They just looked at how many people waited in line for free pancakes.
Anoka County Commissioner Julie Braastad heard that people started lining up one hour before the start of the senior expo to get their breakfast before checking out the “one-stop shop” for senior services in Anoka County.
“People love it,” Anoka County Commissioner Robyn West said. “There’s always new people entering the age of retirement. It gives them a heads-up on what to watch for in the future. Or there are people in my age group with aging parents.”
Seniors were refreshed on services that have been around for years, such as the Anoka County Brotherhood Council Food Shelf in Anoka, and they were informed about new programs including this shelf starting a program to deliver food to senior citizens over the age of 65, according to Sonya Traisci, a financial assistance specialist with Anoka County’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Those who came to the senior expo this year saw the Stoney River senior housing project under construction just east of the church. Attendees were able to learn about this, and many other senior housing options, at the expo.
Some senior citizens are choosing to stay in their homes as long as possible with the assistance of personal caregivers who sometimes are family.
The economic recession hit a lot of people hard, including senior citizens on fixed incomes and those going into retirement whose 401(k) accounts were depleted as the stock market plummeted. The expo included financial institution vendors who could offer assistance.
Banister said the trend she has noticed over the last 16 years of the expo are more senior housing, caregiver, financial assistance and insurance vendors.
Beyond physical health, one vendor broached the topic of mental health.
A local funeral home was in attendance to help people plan for the inevitable.
To lighten up the mood, the Mello-Tones band out of Minneapolis played upbeat polka music that some danced to as they waited in the long line for the pancakes. When asked, Larry Laird would flip pancakes high in the air onto the plate of a hungry guest.
Ron and Joyce Hunter have lived in Anoka for about 40 years and attended multiple Anoka County Senior Expos, so they have seen first-hand how much larger the event has become. They were not looking for any particular information this year. They just want to know what is out there.
“It just makes you aware of what’s around. You can see all the services, right here in Anoka County.”
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]