In the early 1990s, having a place for seniors in Watertown to call their own and run activities aimed at older adults was just a dream, but that changed 25 years ago. On Friday, the Watertown Senior Center’s anniversary celebration was so large even the center on Marshall Street could not hold all those wanting to join in the fun.
Most years, the Senior Center’s birthday celebration draws 90-100 people, but for the 25th anniversary nearly double that amount filled 20 tables at Hibernian Hall.
The Celebration included lunch, a raffle and dancing to music from the Phil Cefalo Band. The Senior Center’s own Mellowtones also performed.
The ground breaking for the Watertown Senior Center took place on June 11, 1993. Before that the Council on Aging operated out of an office in Town Hall and activities took place in shared spots around town.
In the days before the Senior Center was built, Director Caryl Fox — who retired in 2016 — ran the programs out of the gym of the Phillips School, said Debbie Dunn, the center’s program coordinator, who has been working there since the beginning.
“Before (the Senior Center) people would walk into a little office in Town Hall to sign up for a trip or programs and would leave,” Dunn said. “Then when we got the Senior Center it was totally different. We had a building where we could hold programs. It grew and grew — more programs, more people.”
Now, people come in for a program and make a day of it.
“We have a group, they come in for yoga in the morning, have coffee, and some leave but most stay here for pizza and watch a movie,” Dunn said.
Rose Carabello, who is 96, has been attending events for seniors in town since before the Senior Center was built. She remembers attending activities at the St. James Church in Watertown and the East Junior High School (now the Brigham House.
“They fought like hell to get the Senior Center,” Carabello said. “We went to the Town Meeting for many many years and we got it. I love it.”
Anna Corsi has also been going to the Senior Center from the start. She immigrated with her family from Italy to U.S. when she was 7 and lived in Watertown. At age 98, Corsi still lives at home, but she likes to get out to the Senior Center on special occasions.
“I am so happy to have (a Senior Center) here,” Corsi said. “When they have a party, or something like that, we come.”
Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Pettito Devaney was on the Town Council when the Senior Center was approved, and she said that vote was one of the most important ones she made. She thanked Warren Tolman, then Watertown’s State Representative, for helping to get the 25 percent state funding for the project.
“We have the best Senior Center,” Pettito Devaney said. “It is not about the building. It is about the staff and what they do for you.”
She also brought a proclamation from the Governor’s Council declaring June 15, 2018, Watertown Senior Center Day in Massachusetts. Town Council President Mark Sideris read a proclamation from the Town Council in honor of the Center’s 25th anniversary.
State Sen. Will Brownsberger, whose political career started as a selectman in Belmont 20 years ago, said he remembered visiting the Watertown Senior Center when it was just a few years old.
“When I first ran, one of the three signature issues for me was building a senior center from Belmont,” Brownsberger said. “People brought me here and said, look at what a beautiful senior center here in Watertown.”
Since opening, the activities and programs have grown, said Senior Center Director Anne-Marie Gagnon, who took the job in 2016. This year — thanks to increased funding from the Town Council — the center will add a part-time program services assistant, increase the hours of the case worker to make it a full-time position, and add a day to the senior shuttle service — which picks up seniors at their homes and takes them grocery shopping or to the mall.
The Senior Center also relies on volunteers to keep it functioning, said Pat Gold, president of the Council on Aging.
“You are the Senior Center. I love you all,” Gold said.
The members also help the Council on Aging decide what types of programs and services to offer at the Senior Center.
“Some may think we are well meaning seniors who don’t know anything about senior needs,” Gold said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Sponsors of the 25th Anniversary Party were: Ernie Berardinelli; Realty Executives – Ari Koufos, Realtor; Marriott Residence Inn – Watertown; Joyce Funeral Home, Ed Brown – the Snug Home of the Perfect Pint; Nardone Funeral Home; MacDonald Rockwell & MacDonald Funeral Services; Watertown Mall Merchants Association; Rose Carabello, Dunkin’ Donuts – Main Street; Watertown Savings Bank; Stop & Shop – Pleasant Street; Russo’s; DeVito Funeral Home; and the Council on Aging Volunteers.