When Joyce Roach's husband, Raymond, died in 2018, the funeral home was full of friends the couple had made over the years at the senior center.
"When I say the center is a part of our family, that's true," Roach's daughter, Sammy Hanshaw, said in an interview. "The center is an extended part of our family, and you could interview another 20 people and they'd say the same thing because this is a tight group."
Located in the Eastgate Town Center off Brainerd Road, the community at the Eastgate Senior Center supported Roach after her husband's death, and it continues to be an important source of strength as she now grapples with dementia, her daughter said. Roach, 83, celebrated her birthday there in September with flowers and balloons.
As it prepares to conduct a feasibility study on a new standalone senior center facility, the city is terminating its lease at Eastgate and moving senior programming on a temporary basis to the Glenwood Community Center starting Dec. 1. The city has leased space at Eastgate since 2007.
Hanshaw expects she will bring her mother to the new location occasionally. However, the Eastgate location is familiar and more convenient, Hanshaw said, and several people have already told her they don't intend to visit Glenwood.
"That breaks my heart because it has been a part of our family for so long, and I know some of these other people, it's a part of their life," Hanshaw said. "Now, the doors are shutting, and some people are just going to be shut-ins at home again."
On Monday morning, dozens of regulars gathered around tables to feast, laugh, reminisce and bid farewell to the facility, which will officially close its doors at the end of the month. Roach and her daughter were among them. Attendees took turns sharing thoughts and stories at the microphone — one woman serenaded her peers with a song — but much of the celebration was dedicated to line dancing, a popular activity at the facility.
Seniors have regularly told city officials the Eastgate facility doesn't meet their needs, and they would prefer a standalone center, Chief Operating Officer Ryan Ewalt said in a phone interview. The approximately $100,000 the city pays a year to rent space at Eastgate could be better invested into upgrading existing facilities for seniors and completing a study on more permanent arrangements, he said.
The city will evaluate whether it's possible to develop a new standalone senior center near the Carver Recreation Center. Ewalt said its unclear how long seniors will be at Glenwood Community Center.
"I think it's a little early to start estimating time frames, but I think we're talking years, not months," Ewalt said. "It's not going to be a short process, but this is not an administration that likes to sit on its hands or kick the can down the road. I think we're looking for answers sooner than later."
The city spoke with the Senior Center Advisory Board for several months to go through a half dozen options for a temporary location, Ewalt said. Officials deferred to board members on their preferred spot, and Glenwood rose to the top.
"No location is perfect, and all of them have pros and cons," Ewalt said.
Pauline Hall, who is in her 80s, has been attending senior center programs for 23 years. Hall is a widow and lives alone, and she goes to the facility for companionship.
"It gives me somewhere to socialize rather than to sit at home and look at the TV all day," Hall said in an interview.
Many of her friends are there for the same reason, and she has concerns about the change — parking is limited at Glenwood Community Center, and the facility's hours wouldn't be 100% dedicated to senior programming.
"We're like a big family," Hall said. "We're being evicted. We're being divorced from each other because I'm not sure that everybody is going to stick together and go to Glenwood."
Glenwood will have dedicated hours for seniors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, according to the city. Public hours will start at 3:30 p.m. weekdays and at noon on Saturday. In comparison, the Eastgate Senior Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Ewalt said the city will add 25 parking spaces at Glenwood Community Center in 2024, and officials are also working on an agreement with a nearby church to provide more parking. Additionally, the city is looking at securing shuttle services that would provide transportation to and from the community center from larger parking lots in the area.
In an interview, David Lawson, 72, compared the senior center to a town square — a place to discuss news, sports, politics and health issues. He regularly visits the facility for a workout and to learn new dances, which is something his primary care physician says is good for him.
"I don't have a good feeling about the move because Eastgate was ours," he said about transitioning to Glenwood. "We're going into a place where we're going to have to share, and I don't think you have the freedom ... to meet other people."
Shirley Webb, 75, said the move will be bittersweet, but she's optimistic.
"When the Lord removes something, He always adds something better," Webb said in an interview. "We're not afraid of change. It's going to be better."