The Upper Valley is blessed with many people who quietly perform significant work to help others. A collection of such folks can be found at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction, VT. The building itself is a gift, the legacy of T.D. Bugbee, a local dentist who died in 1954 leaving money to the town of Hartford for a building in the town’s interest and bearing his name. The Senior Center opened in 1980.

The Center provides social services such as rides to medical appointments, assistance with Social Security, living wills, Medicare and Medicaid. The Center also provides a variety of different activities. A table holds a jigsaw puzzle in process; Monday and Friday are bingo days, and Tuesday is cribbage. Wednesday is line dancing, which brings additional visitors who follow the instructor. Thursday is Zumba Gold. These social events attract people who join in the Center’s most well known service: meals.

Or perhaps it’s vice versa—the sociability of dining together draws people into other group pursuits. Either way, lunch at the Center is popular with the hardworking-kitchen staff preparing approximately 120 meals a day.

Close to half of these meals are delivered to housebound seniors through the Meals on Wheels program. Each weekday, volunteers drive specified routes delivering a hot lunch “to frail or convalescing seniors.” Drivers cover five routes: Thetford, Norwich, downtown White River, Hartford-Wilder and “the Quechee route,” which includes West Hartford. Though their contact with each person is brief, drivers keep an eye out for problems and can report possible health or social needs they observe.

Funding for the meals program comes from donations from the seniors receiving meals (currently suggested at $5 per day) and about half the funding comes from the federal government. There is no income threshold. The Center does not use donated food, or federal surplus distributions, because these do not provide a reliable and sufficient supply of the ingredients they actually use. The chefs will leave out the brownie from a diabetic’s meal, or substitute canned fruit, but “we don’t have a wide range of substitutions we can make,” says Center Director Len Brown. “By and large the group that comes in here wants comfort food.”

Mac and cheese is very popular, adds Brown, “and heaven forbid you forget the stewed tomatoes that go with it.” He adds, sotto voice, that he hates mac and cheese, and has never eaten a stewed tomato. His chance to exercise his opinions about cuisine comes once a month when the Center sends out for pizza.

The staff

Brown has been director of the Center since the fall of 2008. Immediately prior to this job, he sold motorcycles—“I like to ride, and have owned a number of motorcycles over the years”—but his main career was for 31 years as a superintendent of schools in various districts. “When I began this job my mom said, ‘It’s just like working in schools—us old people are just like children.’” Brown displays a freewheeling good humor that probably helped him survive school meetings. He has a practical excuse for displaying a large photo of Elvis Presley in his office—it’s a clock, donated to a bazaar, but the clock doesn’t work so he put it aside—but what about the mylar palm tree that dangles over his head? Well, that was a surprise gift after a vacation, and he’s surprising people by keeping it.

Quechee’s connection

Quechee residents enjoy and benefit from the programs and have also contributed to its success! Ginia Allison, Quechee resident for many years who now lives at Kendal at Hanover, is an original founder and one of five study leaders during the first pilot year! She led a course on mythology “because it’s a subject I know and love!” (I wasn’t aware of Ginia’s involvement before working on this article, but if you know her, it’s no surprise!) Stew Wood, also a former Quechee resident now at Kendal, is President of the Leadership Council. Bruce MacDonald, Quechee resident, is on the Leadership Council and headed up the Summer Lecture Series for ten years. I see Rosemarie Scibetta’s name on the list of Curriculum Committee members (along with Ginia) and Harvey Bazarian, Ron Dull, Bruce MacDonald and Rita Palanov were all study leaders in 2014 (Apologies if I missed anyone).

Wood reflected on his experience with OSHER@Dartmouth as he nears the end of his two-year term at the lead. Wood is a very active retired Episcopalian Bishop who is a graduate of Dartmouth. “I got started by signing up for a course. It wasn’t long before I thought I’d try my hand as a study leader. That was fun and personally very rewarding so I did it several more times. Then out of the blue I was asked to serve on the Board (now Leadership Council), introducing me to the significant contributions of a host of volunteers who oversee everything. I’ve also learned a great deal about Dartmouth and the Provost’s office, which has oversight for all academic departments. I count this as one of the really bright spots in my adult life. I’ve had the chance to work with others in a way that makes a difference in the lives of many people and have fun doing it.”

There have been several ILEAD programs presented at The Quechee Club and we hope to partner actively with OSHER@Dartmouth in the future to offer the great facilities here for more programs for residents of Quechee and our neighbors. We all need to maintain active minds; what an opportunity we have to do this through OSHER@Dartmouth! “Join in and share in the learning and laughter at Osher,” says King.

by Ruth Sylvester