by Jonathan Scott
Patricia Monroe lost her husband when she was just 60-years old. Her five sons live in another state, so she was left virtually alone. But, like so many widows, she wasn’t ready to consider her life over. She had developed musical talent over a great number of decades. She had her religious faith. She also wanted to continue to learn whatever life had to offer.
Monroe is now one of the 57 folks who come regularly to the Senior Room, located in the J.W. McLaughlin Building in Raeford. On a typical weekday morning, Monroe enjoys a meal provided through the Department of Aging in the company of some of the new friends she’s made—most of whom share her faith.
Like so many in the room, she’s eager to talk. “I play the organ for our gospel group, The Senior Voices of Hoke,” she says, miming the activity to emphasize her point over the chatter at the table. Her eyes light as she thinks about it. “We’ve won a gold medal in the NC Senior Games the last two years. And I believe they’ve won several times before that.”
Betty Fuller, who sits at the next row of tables, claims she’s the youngest person in the room. At 70, she’s far from it, but she has plenty of youthful enthusiasm. “I like everything here,” she says. As if to prove it, she’s written down a list of activities that Hoke County Senior Services provides and is eager to talk about each one. She and her friend, Joyce Bostic, describe the annual Prom Event, where participants dust off their party clothes and come to dance with a possibility they might be crowned King or Queen of the evening.
Senior Services, as a part of the Hoke County Department of Aging, has been providing free meals and activities for over 25 years. Director of Senior Services, Mary Hollingsworth, likes to refer to their mission statement. “Two words really stand out to me,” she says. “We want our seniors to have meaning and purpose in their lives.”
Brenda Mochan’s title is Activities Coordinator but, from watching her interact with the folks at the morning’s congregate meal, it’s clear they consider her a personal friend rather than a county employee. The number and variety of activities she provides for them seems to add up to more than what’s simply required for her job. It would be expected for her to know everyone’s name. What’s unexpected is her evident affection for all of them.
She chats with a number of the ladies who are insistent that their hot dogs are actually “sausage dogs.” In a few minutes she’s going to hold a spontaneous “raffle” for some spaghetti dinners that have just arrived. She’s not flustered. She just smiles. “This is the best job I’ve ever had,” she says.
Over by the wall, Angus McMillan stands by the pool table with a cue stick in his hand watching a final ball roll into a corner pocket. At 91, he’s one of the oldest there, even though he’s only been coming to the Senior Room a couple of years. He spent most of his life in New York but moved to Hoke County at age 86 to be with his son. He’s quick to admit he’s not the best pool player in the group of gentlemen at a nearby table. When asked what keeps him coming back, he puts down his stick and sweeps his hand in the direction of the table. “Guys like these guys,” he laughs.
Go to just about any activities center for seniors in North Carolina and you’ll hear people repeating the word fellowship to explain why they attend. “Fellowship is our main goal,” says Molchan. “It’s our priority.”
But in Hoke’s Senior Room, some of the participants point out that as important as socializing is, they’re getting and giving something more. Willie Rush, 68, sits down across from Angus McMillan and pats the table. “This is the Knowledge Table,” he boasts. “When anyone wants information about anything, they come over here.” The men laugh at themselves, but there is something serious in Rush’s tone.
Patricia Monroe, the organist for The Senior Voices of Hoke, reinforces the idea. The ladies she sits with are older than her by many years. She looks at them and — as if it’s the most important thing she wants people to know — says, “There’s a lot of wisdom in here. A lot. All you need to do is approach them and you’ll receive it.
“More people need to come and get it.”
There is currently a waiting list for applicants for the Congregate Meals. Interested residents of Hoke County who are over 50 can apply at the Senior Service office in Raeford, by visiting www.hokecounty.org, or by calling (910) 875-8588.
Hoke County Senior Services is planning a field trip for participants to the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens sometime during April.