March 5, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Dough and doughnuts built the Morris Senior Citizens’ Center

The Morris Senior Citizens Club held a meeting on February 1 and a ‘bittersweet’ decision was made. With only four active members, the group voted to dissolve after a 45 year presence in Morris. Present at the meeting were Pauline Carr, Shirley Mitzel, Ruth Bengston and Agnes Searle who each hold an office on the board. A former member, Carol Kummrow, traveled from her home in Willmar, to attend the meeting. Katia Vantries serves as the treasurer for the group and was also at the meeting to present the final numbers.

Prior to the meeting, there was a feeling of camaraderie as the group discussed the history of the center and the many fun events that took place there. Carr, who was the last Morris Senior Citizen Club president, said that the original group sold a lot of doughnuts to help raise money for the current building. In fact, that old doughnut maker is still present in the kitchen at the Senior Center. The gals refused to share any fun stories from things that took place there, claiming they had to protect the innocent. 

The Morris Senior Citizen Center was founded in 1974 as a result of the Older Americans Act of 1965. Their first location was in the Anderson Hatchery building located on Oregon Ave and East 7th Street. Many volunteers held renovate the building which soon housed over 300 members. The large membership drove the group to move to the former City Hall and fire house on Oregon Ave. and East 6th St. The new city hall was built in the old location and the group began raising funds for a new building in the present location.
The fundraising included several bake sales and individuals sales of goodies such as doughnuts and cookies. They applied for and received grant funds to also help with the project. Eventually, the club teamed up with the city of Morris which was looking to build a community building. The new center not only would be used for senior citizen activities but also rented out to the public for private events such as showers, anniversaries, and birthday parties.  The City of Morris used one end of the building for council meetings.

Groundbreaking for the new building was held on July 16, 1987 and by April 1988 they were moving in. For several years, the Senior Citizens owned a portion of the building but eventually it was taken over by the city. The senior citizens continued to pay the utilities and rented out space to the Nutrition program which provides meals for area residents aged 62 and up.

Through the years there was a lot of activity at the center. Members and guests would stop in daily and visit, play cards, work on puzzles, or just visit with friends. They could enjoy a hot meal at the center or have it delivered to their home. Special events were held for holidays such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Once a month the group hosted a potluck dinner. On Saturday afternoon, a group would come in and play Whist well into the evening.

Every fall the Senior Citizens held their fall bazaar. This meant days of making lefse, cookies and more doughnuts to sell there. One person was designated to make the chicken noodle soup and the 17 or more crocheters were kept busy working their needles and yarn into wonderful creations. It was a big day and helped raise money to support the club for the rest of the year.

The bazaar was no more than done and the club would start focusing on New year’s Eve, another big event. Food was catered for the night and games were planned. Usually this was Bingo with either cash prizes or gifts. Once this night was done, other events such as the Volunteer Appreciation Supper was planned.

There always seemed to be something going on but despite the busy days, the numbers started to dwindle. People became more homebound in their apartment buildings or were able to be socially active through technology. They were spending less time at the center and more time socializing in home environments. Then COVID-19 hit.

The few people who would come to the center stayed home due to health concerns. Memberships dropped and no activities could be held. Puzzles, dominoes, books, and card decks were idle on the shelves.  Meals continued to be made but most of the over 100 meals prepared each day were delivered by three volunteer drivers. 

At the beginning of 2021, Morris City Manager Blaine Hill stopped in to ask the small group there what plans they had for the club. With so few members, they were running out of volunteers to help plan and work at the events. He told them that if they decided to dissolve, the Morris Transit Office could use a portion of the building. 

Pauline, Shirley, Ruth and Agnes decided it was time to dissolve the club and made it official on February 1. Nutrition Services will continue to work out of the kitchen in the building and deliver the requested meals. The community center portion of the building will continue to be available to be rented for special events. 

The original purpose of the Senior Citizens Club was to engage in activities for the benefit of older citizens in the community. Once the pandemic is over, these citizens will need to find new ways for those activities. Maybe they will meet for coffee at a local restaurant. Perhaps they can live in a building that has a community room for gatherings. Or they can get on the internet and visit with friends without even leaving their home. 

It is wonderful to see what all those doughnuts helped build many years ago. Despite the fact that the club will no longer exist, the building they worked so hard to create, will continue to benefit many people in the area. If those walls could only talk and share the many stories that were told within.

Katie Erdman