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A place of their own

FriedVelchek (from left) Ruby Dowell Diane G. Smith chas they look over jewelry ongoing garage sale Merrillville Senior Citizen Center

Frieda Velchek (from left), Ruby Dowell and Diane G. Smith chat as they look over jewelry at the ongoing garage sale at the Merrillville Senior Citizen Center in Merrillville. | Stephanie Dowell~ for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:02AM



A group of seniors snacked on pastries as they played a friendly game of bingo one recent morning at the Merrillville Senior Citizens Center.

“They love bingo. It’s their favorite activity,” said Gwen Gass, site manager of the center located at the far north end of Merrillville High School.

She said the average age of members is about 80, with ages ranging from the late 60s to 90s.

The center on March 6 celebrated its 20th anniversary at the high school, where it provides a place for seniors to gather, enjoy activities and entertainment and eat a hot meal provided by Meals on Wheels from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

But the senior center has actually been around longer than that.

“We’ve been in about every school Merrillville has — John Wood, Iddings, Jonas Salk, Harrison and Pierce Middle School — wherever there was an empty classroom,” Gass said.

The current location was built as a senior center as an addition to the high school, giving it its own home, she said.

Merrillville School Corp. also bought furniture for the center, giving one side a cozy, homey feel.

Frieda Velchek, of Hobart, one of the bingo players, said centers like the one in Merrillville are a great place for seniors to go to and she comes often herself.

“It’s entertaining. You get to visit, relax and eat. I love it,” Merrillville resident Norma Jean Phillips said.

“It gets you out of the house,” added Merrillville resident Gracie Lipford, who comes three days a week.

A few members joined seniors from throughout Lake County on a recent trip to Indianapolis, where they expressed their feelings about senior centers to state legislators and urged continued funding.

The center’s funding comes from Northwest Indiana Community Action, but it also raises money on its own for some minor expenses through an ongoing rummage sale on site. Gass said the rummage sale brings in about $15 a week.

“I like to say that we’re being green by having the rummage sale. These items aren’t going to the landfill and it helps with our costs,” Gass said.

While bingo is a popular mainstay, with games scheduled every Monday and Friday, seniors can also enjoy live entertainment; programs on nutrition, vision loss and other health-related topics; visits to various assisted living centers in town; and a monthly birthday bash celebrating all members with a birthday that month with a cake.

For information on the center, call 736-1070.



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