There were some tears and a lot of laughter on Friday, June 29 as regular visitors to the Salem Senior Center and community members gave Godwin and Betty Teague lots of company on their last day at work.
"I hope you enjoy retirement," Marvin Weaver said to Betty Teague, as he carried his empty food tray back to the kitchen.
Godwin, who has coordinated Fulton County senior citizen programs for the past 29 years, and Teague, who ran the Salem Senior Center and performed a host of other duties for 13 years, stepped down, as the White River Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA) took over temporary management of local senior programs on Monday, July 2.
Among the visitors to a retirement reception was Helen Bassham, who worked at the Salem Senior Center for 16 years herself before retiring.
"I'm glad to see such a good crowd here," Bassham said. "We need to support the center. I remember, years ago, when we were in a dinky place on the square, and our food was brought from Mountain Home."
Bassham also remembers when the new center on Church Street (which opened in 1991) attracted 70 or more seniors a day. With dining tables filled for lunch on June 29, Bassham was taken back to the 'good old days,' as people made a point to come by to say "goodbye and good luck" to Godwin and Teague.
"I come here about every day," Melba Castleman said. "The food is good and I enjoy the company. I hate to see Connie and Betty leave."
After nearly 30 years of working to build up senior programs and fighting to keep them going in tough times, Godwin is worried about the future of local senior programs.
But her family believes it is time that Godwin, who has dealt with health issues, needs to slow down.
"I think it's going to be good for her," said daughter, Kelly Reed. "She can concentrate on her health and spending time with her grandkids."
"I've been trying to get her to retire for the past two years," husband Dale Godwin added.
Catherine Butler, the long-time accountant for senior programs, put together the retirement reception. Godwin and Teague received plaques saying, 'In appreciation for dedicated service to Fulton County Aging,' along with gift certificates and lots of good wishes.
"People have been so kind," Teague said, after receiving one of many hugs from well wishers.
While center users enjoyed cake and punch and joined in, many expressed concern about the center they rely on.
"We don't know what's going to happen," George Wright said, about the new management set to take over. "I'm afraid they'll raise the meals up to $3 or something."
The current $2 a meal is hard enough for people on a fixed income to come up with, so a potential price increase was mentioned often, as regular users of the center expressed concern about the future. Others were upset they haven't been told what to expect.
"Why isn't White River here today?" Castleman asked. "They should be here to tell us their plans."
WRAAA announced in April that the Fulton County Council on Aging would not be given a new four year contract to operate the county's three centers -- Salem, Viola and Mammoth Spring -- and deliver in-home meals. WRAAA said the Council was not raising enough money to expand services, and its board was not active enough in fundraising or recruiting volunteers.
It intends to run the Fulton County program until it finds someone to take over the long term contract.
WRAAA calls its program the Fulton County Senior Life Program. It has indicated it will operate the center for longer hours each day, would like to expand the transportation program for seniors, and will actively work to attract more seniors to the center.
Janice Crider, who has been hired as Senior Life Coordinator, has experience working for Izard and Sharp County senior programs. She said, in an introductory letter, that she is aware of "the hard work and dedication that must've been applied to make this type of program available for as long as it has now serviced Fulton County Seniors."
But Crider promises changes to revitalize local senior programs. "I am confident we will see the community rally to show the support that each and every senior so richly deserves," Crider said.
If Crider wants suggestions, center user Joanna DeFoe has them. "We need more activities here to draw seniors in," Defoe said. "Why do we eat at 11 a.m.? That's too early. Some change might be good."
State and federal funds for senior programs have been flat or declining in recent years, so fundraising and recruiting more volunteers will be vital links to WRAAA's efforts to improve programs at the local centers.