New director says senior center has much to offer
Open House: The senior center will hold an open house Wed., May 28, from 9-11 a.m.
BY MARGIE RICHARDS
New director Joe Dudley remembers the day he walked into the Madison County Senior Center a little over five years ago.
“I’d just retired from Reliance after 32 years and started a lawn business,” he said. One day after finishing up a grass cutting job, he came home and spotted an ad in the newspaper for a Senior Center bus driver.
“The paper was just lying there, open to that page, as if it was meant to be,” he recalled. “I’d known Eloise (McCurley) for many years, so I got cleaned up and went over there.”
When he walked in, McCurley looked up from her desk, smiled and said, “Joe, how are you doing? I hope you’re here to apply for the bus driver job.”
From then on, Dudley became one of the regular faces at the center, driving the shuttle buses to pick up and drop off center attendees, delivering Meals on Wheels, running errands, helping out in the office, doing custodial work, whatever was needed.
“I miss doing all that,” Dudley said, though since they’re shorthanded, he still fills in on the bus route from time to time, as well as other duties.
When McCurley died following a car crash in December, Dudley, like the rest of the staff and the patrons, was devastated.
“We all loved Eloise, she was just a special person,” he said.
After thinking about it for a while, he decided to “throw his name in the hat” and apply for the director’s job.
“I knew I couldn’t fill her shoes, that’s for sure, but I hope she’d be pleased,” he said.
And Dudley will be the first to tell you he couldn’t manage alone.
“We got the best group there is here,” he said. “All of us can ‘do it all,’ we can fill in for each other wherever we’re needed,” he said.
Senior Center employees Doris Tolbert, Margaret Howard, Gail Bales and Charles Middleton have all pitched in to help keep the Center and its programs running as smoothly as possible, after all they know that’s what Eloise would want most of all.
Wisely, Dudley started the change over process with the little things when he took over as director April 1.
“I moved the desk (in the office) and changed around some things in here first,” he said.
Dudley said it’s given him a new perspective since he’s taken the helm of the Senior Center operations.
“There’s so much paperwork, regulations,” he said, and he’s glad he has Tolbert to help sort through it all, adding there’s still a lot for to learn.
“Without a doubt, I’ve been blessed with this, there’s been some hills to climb, and they’ll be some more…pretty much whatever could go wrong, has gone wrong,” he said. “But we’ve worked through it and this is where I want to be.”
One of those “hills” has been the inevitable and necessary changes, some big, some small. McCurley was beloved by everyone, and the way she did things is, for many, the only way they should be done.
“I’ve heard, ‘we don’t’ do it that way,’ many times already,” he said. “And sometimes I have to say, ‘well, we’re going to try it this way…”
And Dudley has turned to Tolbert and the others who’ve worked there for years for advice and direction, and he’s sought the assistance of senior center directors in surrounding counties.
In the process, he’s been struck anew by the needs of the community and the senior center’s efforts to fill some of those needs.
“I never realized what a need there is until I started delivering Meals on Wheels yeah they need the meals, but they need the fellowship more,” he said of the folks he’s met out on the routes.
In fact, he said he’d like to start a visitation program for the elderly and shut ins in the community.
But first, he’s making a renewed effort to make the county aware of the senior center and all it has to offer.
He began by sending letters to the county churches, informing them of some of the services the senior center offers and inviting them to come to an open house scheduled for next Wednesday morning, May 28, from 9 11 a.m. to see firsthand all the center has to offer.
For those who can’ t make it that day, there’s an open invitation to visit anytime, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. 4 p.m., though most programs for seniors are held in the mornings.
Tolbert said the center’s advisory board, volunteers and many of the center patrons themselves have all been a tremendous help, pitching in where needed.
Some of the ladies have started quilting again, the Scarlett O’Hatters, the Red Hat Society McCurley started, are continuing their meetings, weekly Bingo games are being conducted, the annual plant sale was held.
Slowly, things are beginning to settle into a routine again, though all acknowledge it’ll never be quite the same.
“I don’t want anybody to think I believe I’ll ever fill her shoes,” Dudley said, adding that folks at the Center stop by the office most every day to reminisce about McCurley, or just to talk about her.
“I think everything is going to work out OK,” Dudley said.
After much consideration, a new bingo table is being purchased with some of the donations from a memorial fund established following McCurley’s death.
“I think that would have made her happy,” Dudley said. “After all a lot of these folks were her family, she loved them and they loved her.”
Earlier this year, the board of commissioners voted to name the facility the “Eloise McCurley Senior Center.”