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Holyoke breaks ground on senior center

Date: 5/3/2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — What has been a long-time dream in the city of Holyoke is certainly becoming a reality now with the official groundbreaking for the new Holyoke Senior Center on April 27.

The $8.1 million project is expected to open next summer, Kathy Bowler, executive director of the city's Council on Aging, told Reminder Publications. She said the fund-raising effort undertaken by the Friends of the Senior Center is past the halfway mark with $300,000 having been raised so far of the $500,000 goal. PeoplesBank has contributed $100,000 to the Friends' effort.

About 100 people gathered on the site of the former preschool next to the Wistariahurst Museum for the groundbreaking. The new center will replace the use of the basement of the War Memorial Building.

Speaking at the event, Secretary of Elder Affairs Ann Hartstein commented on the difficulty of planning and funding such a project.

"Do you know how hard it is for a community to come together to make a commitment [such as this one]?" she asked the audience. "The opportunity doesn't come along very often these days."

Mayor Elaine Pluta declared, "This is going to be a showcase for the city. It's going to put the city on the map."

Several speakers lauded the late City Councilor Jack Whelihan for the role he played in raising the issue and helping to secure funding. City Councilor Kevin Jourdain explained the section of Hampshire Street between Pine and Beech streets near the entrance of the new center will be renamed "Jack Whelihan Way."

Jourdain said, "Even in these tough fiscal times, the seniors of Holyoke have always been a top priority."

Long-time Holyoke resident Barbara Bernard recalled that when she was a student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley in the mid-1940s, she and other students took part in a sociology exercise that included interviewing Holyoke residents who had retired.

She was particularly struck by one man who told her how all he had left was to "go home and wait and die."

After moving to the city in 1950, Bernard used the prize winnings of $100 from a radio quiz show as the seed money for the first Golden Age club in the nation. She said the first meeting drew 75 people and by the end of its first year there were 1,000 members.

Located at the Holyoke YMCA, the club grew and eventually it was forced to move. Former Mayor William Taupier gave the club and the Council on Aging the use of the basement of the War Memorial.

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