In the spring of 1979, the administrative board of the Broken Bow United Methodist Church approved proceeding with a plan to open a senior center in the community of Broken Bow. That plan eventually evolved into what we now know as the Prairie Pioneer Center, which this month celebrates its 30th anniversary.
That first senior center was held in a room at the church which was being used as a youth rec room at the time. The first meals were contracted to be brought in to the center from the Tumbleweed Café.
Memories from the center’s first Director
The center’s first director was Frances Hill, who for the first few weeks would go to the café and pick up the meals in the trunk of her car. She recalled that being quite a problem as she always had to be gone when the people were arriving, and it was hard to keep the food warm. Frances remembered one day in particular when the spaghetti spilled in her trunk. It was then that arrangements were made for someone at the café to deliver the meals to the center.
Those early days proved a challenge in more ways than one. Unable to use the sink in the room, the dirty dishes were loaded on to carts, hauled down the halls and through the Fellowship Hall to the back of the kitchen where they could be washed through three waters. As the only paid employee at the time, Frances relied heavily on help from a number of volunteers.
Frances stored all of the supplies at her home, and her personal phone was used for meal reservations. This was the system for about the first three months of operation, when the stress from the workload became too much for Frances. At that point the café itself began hosting the guests for meals.
Change of hands and
change of location
Shortly after the move to Tumbleweed Café, Frances resigned and Sharon Shaw became the new director. The back room of the café doubled as the senior center until December 1980, when a group of interested citizens formed an organization and collected money to pay for a new building. A. Paul Johnson donated the land for the senior center, and a board was formed. Elaine Hanshew was hired as the center director and Mae Smets was the first cook at the new center.
New facility and
The doors of the new Prairie Pioneer Center opened Dec. 8, 1980. At that time there were 385 members, and the center served 150 meals that first day. Aside from serving meals, the senior center also provided housekeeping, lawn service and snow removal for seniors, with the objective being to allow the seniors the opportunity to stay in their own homes as long as possible. When a cut in funding occurred those extra services were scaled back to just housekeeping tasks.
The center acquired a van, which was donated by the Jaycees who also paid the first year’s insurance on the vehicle. The family of Dr. Chaloupka donated money to add a second office to the facility, and Oct. 5, 1983, the Friendship Room was donated by Pricilla Varney in memory of her husband. The furniture and carpet for the room was donated by Mabel Lamprecht. In her notes Hanshew recalled 200 people attended the dedication event.
In 1985, some of the seniors, including Jack Sterling and Althea Sorenson, got together and organized a “kitchen band.” Besides providing local entertainment, the band played at the Holdrege Music Festival, Conestoga Mall in Grand Island for Senor Citizen’s Day, and Chautaqua in the park.
Over the years the center has been visited by a number of dignitaries, including Nebraska Governor Kay Orr, Helen Boasaled, Patty Kuehl of the Nebraska Department on Aging, Congresswoman Virginia Smith, and Senators Howard Lamb and Jim Jones. The center has hosted special luncheons, card parties, dances and quilt shows. The center’s members have also been able to go on many trips to such places as Nashville, St. Louis, Branson and Memphis, where they were able to tour Beale Street.
The center’s first ‘memory board’ was made by Henry Bence, and the second made by Mark Russell. Through the years more and more names have been added to the board, “and we are grateful and appreciative of the work, dedication and support of those who have gone before us,” Hanshew wrote.
Center remains a vital link in our community
Now under the direction of Nancy Harrold, the Prairie Pioneer Center continues to be an active, integral part of the Broken Bow community. In just the past few months a number of improvements have been made to the center and to the grounds, including new underground sprinklers and sod, and a new commercial freezer. The building has also been recently painted, with all of this work being paid for entirely with memorial money.
To help seniors remain active and keep up with the times, a flat screen TV and Wii gaming system were added about six months ago. Harrold says there has been a lot of enthusiasm about the games, particularly the bowling. The pool table is also a popular pastime at the center, where at least six to eight players can be found every day. The center also hosts Bingo twice a month.
Harrold says the center is currently averages 28 - 30 home-delivered meals each day, and serves anywhere from 30 - 50 meals each day at the center. There are also more than 90 clients receiving housekeeping services provided by Prairie Pioneer Center. Housekeeping services are available to anyone over the age of 60, regardless of income.
The center has five employees and one Experience Works (formerly Green Thumb) worker. The center provides a wheelchair accessible bus everyday for transportation to the center and back home.
The Prairie Pioneer Center tries to provide its clients with a variety of services and information. Harrold attends regular training on issues relating to seniors, working to provide services which assist seniors and handicapped remain active and independent. The center is funded through the South Central Nebraska Agency on Aging, Custer County, and generous client’s contributions.
As written in The Older Americans Act, “a senior center is a community focal point where older persons come together for services and activities which enhance their dignity, support their independence and encourage their involvement in and with the community.” For the past 30 years, the Prairie Pioneer Center has been doing just that for the senior citizens of Broken Bow.