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The center that Margaret built
By Jobyna Nickum
The first senior center started in New York City in 1943. The Older American Act passed in 1965 and in 1973 there were amendments which allowed federal funds for smaller communities to start nutrition programs – if they had the commitment to do so. Well, Enumclaw was fortunate enough to have all the players in place in 1974! The mayor at the time called on his friend Margaret Yonkers and said, “You need to start a senior center to keep my mother-in-law out of the house and off the streets!”
Anyone who was ever fortunate enough to know Margaret Yonkers knows that when she made her mind up, she did it. Starting in 1974, with Jean Morris and Ruth Koral, Margaret Yonkers started a lunch program. In a Courier-Herald article from that year, you can see Margaret’s vision for the future – moving beyond serving just a meal to seniors:
”We have information on Social Security programs and have plans for a visiting nurse to stop by,” she said. “We talked to Metro transit and they will have someone come down to explain bus services and senior bus passes. From there on, it’s up to what the people want.”
Well, the senior center stayed in the Calvary building from 1974 until Margaret worked to get us moved to the current building in 1981.
Joan (Klein) Johnson was the nutrition site manager from 1975 to 1996. Working with Margaret and at the senior center in the early years, Joan remembers, “was challenging and yet fun!
We were in the Calvary Presbyterian Education Center and it was way too small. We only had a stove, a small fridge and a small dishwasher. We had to set up all the tables every day and then take them down before we left. Margaret decided we needed our own building for the seniors to call our own. When Margaret made up her mind, she would not stop until she got it done! We were all so happy when we got to move into the new location on Cole Street.”
Margaret retired as director of the Enumclaw Senior Center in 1985. She did not “retire” from the center, however. She was very involved in the Wellness Committee from 1998 until her passing. She attended the Seaside, Ore., Senior Wellness Conference for seven years – participating in skits, dance competitions, sing-a-longs, walkathons along the promenade, meeting older adults across Washington and Oregon promoting wellness in later life.
When the Senior Center started its Red Hat Society in 2004, Margaret was unanimously voted our group’s first “Queen Mother.” She would regally open meetings, greet new members and wave at parades with her red hat and feathered boa, “tongue-in-cheek” – always ready to have a good time and share a laugh with friends.
Whenever I tried to get Margaret to share her managerial expertise – by joining the Senior Advisory Board or anything remotely “political” or “bureaucratic” here at the center – she would just pat me on the shoulder and say, “No dear, I retired from all that. It is all yours now.”
As the current senior center manager I can say this – Margaret was a wonderful mentor. She always held herself with poise and dignity. She would walk into this center looking like she was modeling for a senior magazine. A few months ago, she was weeding the Enumclaw Garden Club garden patch out in our parking lot. She was out there at 7 a.m. when I pulled up, wearing a darling, matching Capri outfit and looking like a spritely Doris Day. She looked more put together than I did and she had already been in the dirt for hours! She never once criticized how I was managing a project or service (even though I am sure she had opinions). During the last 18 years she gave me nothing but encouraging words, kudos and tons of supportive hugs on stressful days.
I will look at her as not only an example of a senior center manager, but personally as an example for “successful aging.” Margaret was always on the go, busy volunteering her time with the senior center, Chamber of Commerce, helping others in the community, busy with the Garden Club, visiting friends who were homebound or ill. Margaret never complained. About anything. Margaret loved her family – her kids and grandkids – and one of her favorite things was camping for a month every summer with her daughter out at Kanaskat-Palmer State Park. How many daughters and mothers get that time together? And love it?
On a personal note, my mother Jean and Margaret had become close friends here at the center and through the Wellness Committee. They went on many trips and excursions. My mom’s favorite “Margaret story” is how they would talk at night in their hotel rooms until the wee hours of the morning. When they finally would go to bed – they would place their dentures in the cups facing each other – so their teeth could keep talking to each other after they fell asleep. I used to tell them when they would head off on a trip that they weren’t seniors – they were recycled teenagers. How wonderful to have fun when you are older.
Margaret enjoyed traveling – not only did she and her husband Cecil travel all over the U.S., but she started the traveling program at the senior center. Cruises, extended bus trips – the old scrapbooks are filled with snapshots of Margaret and the “original gang” hitting the streets of Victoria, B.C., all the way to Mexico. Margaret traveled with many friends from the center and with other groups. She would travel by bus, plane, train or cruise. Everyone who had Margaret for a travel companion would say, “She’s just the best person to travel with!”
Margaret passed away while traveling through the South – Elvis’ Graceland, New Orleans Bourbon Street and as she told her travel partner and friend Catherine, “I am having the best time!”
Thank you Margaret for a wonderful legacy.