VALPARAISO | Most senior citizens will put up with quite a bit of adversity – declining health and mobility, restrictive incomes and the loss of friends and loved ones to name a few – but don't mess with their pinochle time.
Several seniors who attend the city's Banta Activity Center were upset last week when the center's hours were cut back from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The move came after the dues were increased in January from $35 a year to $50 a year.
Although the facility is owned and maintained by the city's Parks Department, the programs and activities at the center are managed under the Elderstyle program run by the Pines Village Retirement Communities.
Several of the seniors met with Elderstyle staff Thursday to ask that the center stay open until at least 3:15 p.m. each day, but they were told that couldn't be done. The big issue for the seniors seems to be accommodating the pinochle and bridge groups who play most days right after lunch.
Jim Murfey, 68, is in the pinochle party and said they can play about eight games, usually finishing at 3 or 3:15 p.m. He said it's the same for the bridge players. He said eliminating the first half hour is "no big whoop" because nothing starts before 9 a.m. anyway.
"It is a senior facility, and we had no input," Murfey said. "I'm 68 and in good health, so I can still get around, but some are in their 80s and 90s and this is most of their social life and I feel sorry for them."
Leni Wilhelmi, 70, has attended Banta for four years and said all the activities are "a neat thing to do," but added, "For all the programs, I don't understand why they have to cut back an hour. The bridge group is trying to find a place where they can play longer, and that's just a shame."
One of the bridge players, Bunny Clark, 69, said, "It seems like they are not willing to work with everybody. They do have a lot of programs, but the pinochle and bridge groups are the biggest groups they have. For some people, that's the only reason they come there, and, if they can't do that, they won't come.
"I play backgammon, cribbage and dominos, and there are other programs I'm interested in, but I can do those somewhere else," Clark said.
Pines Village CEO Laurie Mullet said the center has 537 members overseen by 87 volunteers and two staff people. They serve between 30 and 95 meals a day and can have attendance ranging from 20 to 120. A study of the traffic patterns showed very little, if any, activity before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m., which is why the change was made.
"For the greater good, we need to close an hour earlier," Mullet said. "To continue to provide programs, we have to do that. We might move up the meal a little so they can get the card games in."
Some of the seniors said they were told federal funds that supported the program were cut. Mullet said the agency lost some state education funding in 2012, but that had no effect on the reduction in the center's hours.
"It's being changed only because nobody was in the building," she said.