LeROY — The old Casey’s store has already become a gathering place for senior citizens even though its conversion to a senior activities center has barely begun.
“People in the community are looking forward to it,” said Evelyn Johnson of LeRoy.
Many of the community’s seniors have been showing up at the building at 209 W. Washington St. to help any way they can with the project — sweeping, removing shelves, breaking down walls.
“We’re all going to pitch in and work in here to get this place going,” said Judy O’Neil of LeRoy.
“I like to tear things apart,” said Carol Pfoff of Saybrook, whose husband, Kevin, also is helping on the project.
Barb Whiteman of Arrowsmith is the dynamo behind the project, with her nonprofit organization, Living Well United.
Whiteman has been teaching a “Silver Sneakers” senior fitness class at LeRoy’s Replex for almost six years. Recognizing the need for more social interaction, she started adding other activities.
A senior center “seemed like the next natural progression,” she said.
No opening date has been set. It will depend on when work is completed on such things as installing two accessible bathrooms that meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.
Whiteman first approached Casey’s about donating the building when the store closed in 2017. In January, her dream came true when “Casey’s gifted the building and property” in exchange for payment of about $6,000 in taxes on the property.
So far, most of the money has come from Whiteman’s pocket, but she is applying for grants and willingly accepts donations to Living Well United, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. She can be reached at email@example.com.
“If this is someone’s mission, we’d like to have them join us financially,” she said.
“All the work so far has been done by volunteers,” said Whiteman — that includes architect Lori Johnson of Jade Architecture, Farmer City, and general contractor Aaron Hanslow of AMH Home Improvements, Farmer City.
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Lori Johnson, whose mother, Evelyn, is part of the exercise group, said the biggest challenge has been “getting Barb to slow down to a normal person’s pace.”
Evelyn Johnson said, “Barb makes people enthusiastic about everything. Her energy comes through everybody.”
The exercise group already seems like one big family and laughter came readily and frequently at a recent gathering at the future site of the senior center
“Our group is good for that,” said Jerry Roberts of Downs, triggering more laughter when the 87-year-old said he is looking forward to “getting my abs in shape.”
That prompted Forrest DeVore of LeRoy to ask, “If 60 is the new 40, what’s 87?”
Whiteman said there are 2,000 senior citizens in LeRoy and surrounding small towns.
“They are active here in the community,” said Whiteman. “They have so much to give.”
She is hoping to have intergenerational activities with students from nearby schools as well as educational and social activities for seniors. No age range has been set yet. An advisory council of seniors will help determine programming.
Irma Crosby of LeRoy is looking forward to informal activities, like playing cards and having lunch together.
O’Neil said it will be nice to have a place to gather where they are “not going to be rushed to leave.”
Rosemary Parker of LeRoy said the center also “gives us a way to check on each other.”
She said, “Everyone is so friendly and welcoming in our exercise group. … Everybody cares about each other.”
Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota