EDWARDSVILLE — When the Edwardsville senior center closed in early November, members began patronizing two other centers, but they always wanted to “come home.”
On Monday, the place where 50 or more senior citizens would go to play and pray together daily is reopening.
An anonymous benefactor read about the plight of the senior center in The Times Leader and he told one member it touched his heart. So the man purchased all the necessary materials and made the needed repairs so the center could once again welcome its family.
Charles Reisser, 68, of Kingston, said after his wife, Shirley, died in December of last year, he was distraught. He said the people at the Edwardsville center “made me human” again.
“This man called me and said he cried when he read the story about the center closing,” Reisser said. “He wanted to do something to get it reopened.”
And the anonymous donor — center director Sherlene Long calls him their “Secret Santa” — did the job and the center will again become a home away from home for the 65 members. The donor replaced the heating unit, repaired the air conditioning and made necessary electrical repairs.
All told, estimates value the repairs at about $30,000.
Trula Hollywood, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, said news of the center’s reopening spread quickly. She said everyone can’t wait for the doors to open Monday at 10 a.m.
“We weren’t feeling very good about the center closing,” Hollywood said. “We’ll have a cake to welcome everybody back.”
On Thursday, Long was at the center getting it ready for Monday’s opening. She had already put up a Christmas tree and decorated it. Holiday decorations were placed around the center, the shuffleboard table was cleaned and ready to go, and a deck of cards sat waiting to be dealt.
“This is the best Christmas present we could ever have received,” Long said. “We’re like family here. This is a place for people to come and feel welcome; to get support and friendship. We all truly care about each other.”
Patti Gozikowski, director of senior center services for the Area Agency on Aging, and Bobbi Shendock, nutrition director, were there to ensure everything was being done to prepare for a crowd on Monday.
Senior aide Rose Bojonny, Long’s right-hand person, was busy putting out red and green tablecloths, and placing centerpieces on every table.
“It’s going to be great to be back serving people I’ve loved being around,” Bojonny said.
Shendock said the center’s “Secret Santa” has made many people very happy this holiday season. “He gave them back their home away from home,” she said.
“It was a wonderful selfless thing for him to do out of the kindness of his heart,” said Gozikowski.
Long said she expects to see a lot of hugs and kisses when the doors open and “the family” starts arriving. She said there are already plans for a New Year’s Eve party.
The center, which opened in 1973 on Russell Street, is owned by Edwardsville Borough, which charges $1 per year to rent the building to the agency. It closed Nov. 8 due to the needed repairs.
When it closed, several members expressed hope that someone would hear about the center closing and help out.
Bernie Walchek, 81, of Pringle, said then that maybe “some rich person” reading the story would step to the plate and donate the $30,000 or so needed to replace the HVAC system and return the family to its home.
Her statement and the statements of others apparently caught the eye of the unknown benefactor.
“I think being away for a few weeks makes us appreciate what we have all the more,” Long said.