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Editorial: Rufty-Holmes just starting

A new concept when it opened 20 years ago, the Rufty-Holmes Senior Center in Salisbury is now well-established and highly regarded. But its biggest challenge may lie ahead as Baby Boomers reach retirement age and reshape the nation’s idea of the golden years.
The notion of creating a senior center here predated Rufty-Holmes by a couple of decades. Community activist Addie Rhem Morris organized the Council on Aging in the 1960s and dreamed of the day services for seniors could be offered in one center. A community study conducted in 1981 found loneliness and lack of transportation as the biggest problems facing seniors and suggested the development of a senior center. Five years later, a nonprofit group called Evergreen Senior Activities Center formed to establish such a place. The group looked into using the old Wiley School, which Joe Taylor had bought, but wound up building on Walnut Street. Generous memorial contributions from the families of Haden E. Rufty and Haden C. Holmes in 1987 helped make it happen, and Addie Rhem Morris was present at the groundbreaking. The doors opened in 1988.
Addie Rhem would be proud of what this dream has wrought. The center has 3,500 members and is undergoing its third expansion ó this time to provide space for exercise classes and fitness equipment. Under Director Rick Eldridge’s steady leadership, Rufty-Holmes lives out its mission to promote wellness and extend self reliance and independent living for older adults. It is the site of bridge tournaments, computer classes, swing dances, tax counseling and candidate forums, including the most heavily attended forum for City Council candidates of the 2007 season.
That hints at the political might wielded by senior citizens, no longer a small, forgotten group. Almost 80 million Baby Boomers are heading into retirement, and their agendas include everything from travel, sports and culture to volunteer work. They’re expected to change the nation’s preconceptions about senior living. They may also change the type of services they’ll need and want from a senior center.
Rufty-Holmes is not alone. The National Institute of Senior Centers estimates some 12,000 senior centers in the nation serve 10 million people annually. The majority of users in one study said senior center programming had improved their mental and physical health and helped them remain independent ó pivotal points in the lives of many older Americans.
The past 20 years have been a good start for the Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, and the center’s leaders have ambitious plans for the future. A United Way agency, Rufty-Holmes needs and deserves strong community support to keep up with the changes that lie ahead.

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