Tucked behind the city library and sheltered by a cluster of tall, drooping trees, the Turlock Senior Center is a haven for entertainment, exercise and engagement.
Turlock Senior Citizen Club president and self-proclaimed youngster Gary Weimer, 62, who resembles a former NBA guard rather than a retired Turlock Irrigation District employee, thrusts and kicks and twists along with the dozen or so seniors who come for the thrice weekly low-impact workout.
Starting at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and spanning 40 minutes, the seniors complete a variety of calisthenics along with a video instructor. By working every conceivable muscle and joint—shoulder rolls, stretches, figure eights with the wrists, hip circles with an invisible hula hoop, jogging in place—balance and movement strengthens while the blood flow increases.
And this is all before the aerobics begin.
A gentleman who leads the group changes the film, and a slim young woman named Leslie Sansone appears on the flat screen TV situated at the head of the cavernous room.
“Ok, come on. It’s time to walk,” says Leslie with firm encouragement.
Now, as if renewed by her command and the thumping music, the chatter rises. Shoes stomp on the hardwood in irregular intervals, sending the echoes bouncing off the walls and vaulted ceiling.
After the core stability work is sprinkled with a healthy dose of cardio, they walk in place. At the front of the group, a senescent man struggles to lift his feet completely off the ground, but pushes on nevertheless.
“That’s Dennis,” Weimer says, pointing to the 80-something sporting cargo shorts and running shoes. “It’s as much as he can do, but he’s our inspiration.”
Though the numbers dwindle slightly while a few stragglers retreat for water or a quick breather, there is present in the remainder a tenacious determination to see the two 15-minute sessions to the end.
When finished, the two blocks of aerobics represent a two-mile walk.
This vigorous exercise may come as a surprise to those who view the elderly as generally sedentary, but in fact they probably do more physical activity in their tri-weekly stints than much younger people do in a month.
When the workout is done, the group disperses to make way for a new crowd gathering for the line dancing lesson, which is set to begin right away.
This may seem to be solely for entertainment purposes, but line dancing involves memorization of complex steps, which can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease by forcing the mind to think quickly and attentively.
One such participant, Peggy, a slender senior with bright blue eyes and a friendly smile, reaffirms this fact.
“It’s not like the jitterbug, where your feet don’t know what they’re doing. This is great for memory.”
Although most of the activities the club offers, such as dominoes, pinochle, bridge and aerobics do involve mental acuity, concentration and physical stimulation, there are still get-togethers and potlucks which serve purely social functions, as the club president affirms.
Weimer loves that seniors from the surrounding areas can come together here to beat back the loneliness that can creep into their lives.
Some of his motivation to be a part of the club stems from the dedication to exercise by those older and less capable than himself, but he says it’s also that the senior center is a place “for companionship, with people their own age they can talk to and get with.”
Another bonus is that yearly dues are only $20, and anyone over the age of 50 can become a member.
Currently, the club is composed of about 400, but there is always room for more.
Ever since the first evening potluck was held on May 6, 1971, the year the building was dedicated and opened, the center has sought to meet the needs of the community.
Whether it be bingo, which can put a few extra bucks in the hands of jubilant winners, or a horseshoe pit and shuffleboard area, there is always something going on.
This year, the weekly schedule is stuffed with a steady diet of games, dinners and activities to keep busy with.
Mondays are comprised of the low-impact exercise and aerobics, spinner dominoes (first and fourth Mondays of the month), billiards and meetings for the Garden Club.
On Tuesdays, there’s chair yoga, tai chi, an acrylic painting class and the senior chorus.
Wednesdays you can shoot more pool, learn beginning line dancing steps, work out some more, play bunco (a dice-rolling, point-amassing game, played on the third Wednesday), quilt or let loose with Jim Ingram’s Big Band practice and dancing.
With Thursday comes the lull in action, with a catered dinner or potluck scheduled only on the first one of the month.
But at the end of the week, the frenetic motion returns, complete with the workouts, beginning line dancing, and on sporadic Fridays, bingo, a potluck and bridge.
In the back of the center you can find a media shelf, stacked with puzzles, magazines and James Patterson novels.
At the Turlock Senior Center, there is something for everyone, and whether you want to get your heart rate up with leg kicks and in-place jogging or relax, roll the dice or test your 8-ball skills, one of the more important aspects is staying active mentally, which Weimer insists is one of the keys to staying happy and healthy.
“The dice games, the dominoes, they’re all fast paced, but you’re using your mind constantly, and that’s why a lot of people come and play them. And they’re fun. If you make a mistake, it’s no big deal. We’re all adults,” he affirms.
Emitting a soft chuckle, he offers one minor correction. “Older adults.”