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Ardmore Senior Center — Where staying active is fun

Ardmore Senior Center’s oldest participants are Earl Nichols, 92 and Willie Emma Billions, 96.

In a bright red “Bama” shirt, Willie Emma Billions doesn’t look her age. She’s 96 and loves to play the board game Aggravation. It’s hard to beat her.

Earl Nichols sits to her right as a game is underway. He says he’s 72.

“No, he’s not, he’s 92!” says his wife Deborah, who is 72. Earl looks up and grins. Then Willie Emma sends Earl’s playing pieces back to the beginning and moves one of hers to home.

Willie Emma and Earl are the oldest participants at the Ardmore Senior Center, where there was a lot of joshing around on a recent Thursday morning when a guest drops in for a visit at 8 a.m. when the center opens.

“We’re the best looking too,” Earl says of himself and Willie Emma.

Center Manager Jim Bonner, 88, goes from table to table and plays different games with the participants. Soft bluegrass music plays in the background while a billiards game is going on in one corner of the room, a puzzle is being worked on at one table, while a game of Rook is underway at another table and Gin Rummy is going at another.

It may be a small center, but Jim says most days of the week that there are 12 to 14 participants who attend out of the 28 total who are signed up. Attendance is higher in the warmer months, he added.

“Basic Instructions before leaving earth, that’s what the Bible is,” Georgia Wessling, 87, is saying as the visitor approached a table where she, Deborah, and Mildred Mitchell, 76, insist on teaching the visitor how to play Rummy. The conversation among the ladies is effortless and informative.

Mildred stops by most every morning before she goes to work at Blondie’s Beauty Shop or fixing hair over at the nursing home. She takes time to help the visitor learn the card game, while Deborah shares a story about how she ended up bringing home a stray cat from the parking lot of Walmart on Jordan Lane in Huntsville.

“It was young, running around dodging cars about to get killed when a young boy stopped and jumped out of his pickup truck and grabbed it,” Deborah said. “I asked him if he was going to take it home and he said he couldn’t and he asked me if I could take it. I said my husband will kill me if I bring home another cat, but I took her anyway.”

Then she woke up one morning feeling something cold next to her in bed. The cat had three kittens next to Deborah in her bed.

Deborah described her new cat as being pretty with long white hair and a little gray patch on her head. She named her Sadie. Two of the kittens were white with a gray spot on their heads and one was black. She named them Nina, Cassie and Tootie. She’s keeping all of them, plus her 10-year-old gray and white cat Sissie.

When asked about the cats later, Earl joked that he should have killed his wife and the cat, but then he reluctantly admitted he enjoys the kittens.

As Mildred heads out to go to work, Evelyn Hubbard, 87, has just arrived at the center and takes Mildred’s chair at the card table. Georgia says she can put up with anything “I worked seven years with the criminally insane at Fulton State Hospital in Missouri.”

About that time, Louie Daly also arrived, and everyone says his name as he walks through the side door and heads over to the pool table.

There’s always a game of Rook at the center. On this day, Tom Brannon, 76, Dale Mitchell, 76, Lordel “Lori” McClain, 87, and Roger Harvell, 81, are playing their last hand.

Roger says he and Jackie Billions, the center’s bus driver, have played bluegrass music at “Picking and Grinning” night at Tennessee Annex Building every Thursday night for the past 18 years. It’s open mic and anybody who wants to can play.

The points are tallied up and Tom gets up to leave saying “It was good beating you,” as he walked out the door.

Lori is one of the newcomers to the area. She and her husband moved to the area to be closer to their daughter when her husband became ill about four to five years ago. Her husband died about a year ago.

She started coming to the Senior Center to stay active and rides the bus to get there.

“Sometimes our games last three or four hours,” Lori said, adding she enjoys the company of the others.

Jackie drives the bus and is Willie Emma’s son. In between rides, he’s working on the last pieces of a puzzle.

“I’m thinking about keeping this one and taking it home. I like it,” Jackie says. “About four years ago we did a big one that was all Alabama football … I framed it and took it home.”

Jackie said he doesn’t mind doing all the driving because everyone has a good time at the center. He also does the driving when they take day trips to the Amish Country or other places to get out and about.

Right next to Jackie, Roger has moved from the Rook table to the pool table where he and Louie are racking up the balls and getting ready for another game. Jim reminds everyone to pick up some free chocolate that was dropped off by Russell Stover.

Jim says there’s something for everyone at the Ardmore Senior Center. Ardmore is located on the Alabama-Tennessee state line with nearly 2,600 residents combined in the Town of Ardmore in Alabama and the City of Ardmore in Tennessee. Both sides are welcome at the Senior Center.

Free refreshments are provided each day, but no hot meals are served at the center. Jim said several participants pick up a week’s worth of frozen meals each week. However, Jim bakes goodies and from time to time they often have a soup or chili day, he says. And there are days they also go out to a restaurant and eat together.

Jim said he thinks people who have never been to the Senior Center may have a misconception about what it’s like.

“We’ve got a varied supply of people already attending that cover all socio-economic groups, education and income levels,” Jim said. “There’s something that will fit almost anybody, one way or another. In addition to the games and activities, there are places for conversations, exercise equipment, a television and a small library for reading.

“When the weather is warmer, we will take trips and we go out to eat together too,”

Last year, the Senior Center took trips to the Amish communities during harvest season and when it was time to make molasses. They also went to the Milky Way Farm in Tennessee and to the Yesterdays Dinner Theater near Athens. Photos from different events hang around the center’s bulletin board.

In addition to the fun and engaging activities, Jim says he also stays up on what resources are available for seniors.

“If they call and ask, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll locate the resource they need,” Jim said.

But it’s the comradery that keeps this group coming back day after day.

“It’s a place to talk a lot and it’s a lot better than sitting at home alone talking to yourself,” Evelyn said. “And we have fun.”

The Town of Ardmore Senior Center, is located at 29920 Park Ave. For more information, call 256-423-2099.