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Seniors Are Young at Heart in Pisgah

Oh, What Singing!

It’s been said that there’s power in a name and the Young at Heart Activity Center in Pisgah is proof with its steady attendance of caring and fun-loving participants.

The senior center is in a town of about 681 that sits along the western edge of Sand Mountain in Jackson County. At age 98, Ed Gant is the center’s oldest participant.

“I think I’m as old as the mountain,” Ed said, explaining that he’s lived in Pisgah since he was 14 and his family moved there from Scottsboro. He goes to the center every day and often shares poems or Gospel songs he’s written.

There are several activities for seniors at the center, like a workout room, Bingo, dancing, card games, a penny auction and puzzles. Center Manager Glenda Shiflett said about 24 show up each day between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. The center provides lunch and snacks.

“We really try to make everyone feel welcome and enjoy themselves,” said Glenda, who has managed the center about 17 years. She was instrumental in keeping things going when the center burned down in an overnight fire in 2019. Today, the rebuilt center remains a hub of activity.

On a recent Wednesday, a special musical guest stopped by, and the participants sang, clapped and danced.

It was the first time that musician Jimmy Ray Weatherly of Scottsboro played his guitar and sang a variety of songs from different genres like country, gospel and rock-n-roll.

“When I was a kid, I hated country,” Jimmy told the group after singing Silver Wings by Merle Haggard. “Country was all my Mama and Dad listened to. I was only interested in rock-n-roll, and they were upstairs listening to songs like this,” as he belted out another Merle Haggard tune, Mama Tried.

One of the ladies shared that her son has the words “Mama tried” tattooed on his finger.

Something changed when Jimmy hit his 30s, and he realized there was something special about country music.

“I’ve been to the Grand Ole Opry, and I’ve seen Elvis,” said Gayle Lambert, as Jimmy started singing the George Jones classic, He Stopped Loving Her Today.

Jimmy said he never appreciated classics like that song until he got a little older. And he launched into Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the crowd clapped and sang along before he switched it up with Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis.

“Sing some Alabama songs,” one participant yelled out. “How about some Good Ole Rocky Top, another one requested as Jimmy started playing Old Flame, followed by a rousing rendition of Rocky Top.

Jimmy also got the crowd going with the old Gospel favorites, I’ll Fly Away and Amazing Grace. It seemed like everyone knew the words to most all the songs that Jimmy played.

“I’m so thankful for the gifts the Lord Jesus has given us,” Jimmy told the group. “The gift of life, he showed us the way and he gave us one commandment that you love each other as I have loved you … so we should love as Jesus loved, unconditionally …”

Jimmy sang Make the World Go Away and George Jones first hit, White Lightning, which prompted a a lively conversation about family members or people the participants have known throughout their lives who made home brew.

Every song Jimmy sang resonated with the group from “Dixieland Delight,” “Devil Woman” and “Sweet Caroline”, to “Country Roads” and “It’s Only Make Believe.”

“This was a lively group and I’d like to come back here as part of my ministry,” he told Glenda and the group, who told him he’s welcome any time he can work it in his schedule.

Gayle Lambert, who is in her late 70s or early 80s, said she used to play and perform guitar, piano and sing. Jimmy Ray told her he appreciated her harmony.

“I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed this today,” Gayle said.

While Jimmy’s performance was something new, Glenda said they bring in different types of entertainment from time to time, along with their regular activities.

“Everyone enjoys staying active and we really enjoy our center,” she said.

Alice Reed, 74, has been coming to the activity center for two years after Glenda invited her when they ran into each other at the dollar store.

“I didn’t know if I’d come. I had just lost my husband, but Glenda told me she knows where I live so I came and I’m still here,” Alice said. “Everyone made me feel so welcome and look, I am a very, very, shy person but coming here has got me out of some of that and it’s a good thing. We sit around and visit, play cards and we have fun”.

Brenda Shealy, 72, enjoys playing card, doing puzzles “or just doing something. We come as often as we can if we don’t have doctor’s or other appointments. It’s part of our routine and we enjoy it.”

Johnnie Smith, 83, been coming to Young at Heart about 13 years.

“I was going to Ider for 10 years before that and then started coming here because it’s a little closer,” she said. “Being with other people and socializing is important.”

Glenda and assistant manager, Wanda Roberts who started about a year ago, both love what they do at the center, and it shows before you ever walk into the front door. The parking lot is full. Once inside, you find a group that’s as close as family. Everyone understands and is accepting of each other’s challenges and they’re supportive of each other.

“We welcome anyone who wants to join us,” Glenda said.