Milton Brown started working at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center in 1996, hired as a custodian. It didn’t take him long to realize he’d found his place.
And for the upwards of 1,700 members at the center, Brown believes it’s become a vital hub as well. The center celebrated its 40th anniversary Wednesday with an event that included guest speakers, dignitaries, food, entertainment — and plenty of fellowship. Brown said that’s at the key of what’s kept the center going for four decades and what has kept him there. He’s now the facilities and operations manager.
“The senior center is like a home away from home,” Brown said. “Anytime you come here, we treat everybody with love. We know them personally and they know us. They tell us about their family and we talk about our families.”
Located in Fairview, the center started construction in summer 1981, after a group of Anchorage residents identified the need for a gathering place for people 55 and over. Part of what was known as the Project ‘80s boom of buildings and facilities, the center is owned by the Municipality of Anchorage. It was set to open its doors in 1982, but a fire to the nearly completed building caused a delay.
Thursday’s event packed the main room in the 35,000-square-foot facility, with Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Assembly Chair Christopher Constant among the guest speakers. Many other speakers shared stories of the foundation of the center and experiences that underlined its impact.
“People like to stay connected, and they get their energy from other people and telling their stories,” executive director Rebecca Parker said. “It’s just a fun place to come and you don’t have to stay home and be lonely. You can get out and meet new people.”
The entertainment on Wednesday featured Polynesian and Hmong dance performances and music.
The social prospects at the center are key: It offers crafts, activities and classes. Others come for the meal service or to receive more practical knowledge as they reach retirement age.
“We have people here who come to find out about Medicare,” said Gordon Glaser, a member and past president. “Just how to make those choices. Some of those choices you make in terms of Medicare impact you (in other ways). We have a special grant for a Medicare (information) officer.”
They also offer training and assistance in both fitness and nutrition.
“If you’re a member, all you have to do is call and make an appointment and you can have a one-on-one meeting with a nutritionist,” Parker said.
The center receives some funding from the city, some from fundraising and a portion through membership and holding events. Membership is $75 annually per person, or $135 for couples or two people living at the same address.
“It’s not just seniors,” Brown said. “It’s a public place for everything you can imagine. We’ve had baby showers, birthday parties, retirement parties, kid’s parties, you name it.”
At its anniversary celebration, the Anchorage Senior Activity Center also showcased an oral history project, with portraits of members and links to audio clips with short oral biographies. The project was funded by the Atwood Foundation and managed by Johanna Eurich.
Cal Williams, who served as master of ceremonies Wednesday, said having a place for seniors to congregate is an invaluable community asset.
“You don’t come here to grow old,” he said, “you come here to stay young.”