by Krista Madsen
The seniors of Irvington are such a lively bunch it wasn’t surprising to learn they do the Midnight Run. They do not in fact sprint in the middle of the night but rather make 150 sandwiches each month that get distributed to Manhattan’s homeless.
That’s just one activity in the densely packed calendar the Irvington Senior Center maintains, and if there isn’t anything on the schedule, “they still just want to hang out here all day,” said Director Joan Armstrong, the force who’s helped this group flourish since her long tenure began in 1987.
At first he didn’t want to come, Carol Gazzetta said of her husband Bill. “No, no, no, I don’t want to, and now he wants to come first thing every day.” At the end of the day he’s the last to leave.
What’s refreshing about the Irvington group is that in addition to the things you’d expect – bingo, knitting club – they do a bunch of stuff you wouldn’t. Bill is the rabble rouser of the karaoke, pushing the mic onto anyone who will have it. Classics from the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s are favorites, and there’s those songs that come up every time: “Sweet Caroline,” “Proud to be an American,” “New York, New York.”
The Feldmans are part of the memoir-writing group, self-publishing their results at the local print shop. The Gazzetta’s wrote the story of how they met, called “On My Way to You,” which is a sweet saga that began when she worked in a bowling alley and he, as a patron, said, “I’m getting that lady.” Her initial reaction? “What’s with this chatty guy?” Now they are still buzzing with enthusiasm for each other, for this space, and the friends they’ve made here.
It’s an intrepid bunch known to roam on field trips to City Island, Yonkers Raceway, Arthur Avenue, and Woodbury Commons. This week’s bridge club is off to meet in Cortlandt to celebrate a member’s new apartment after a stint in a nursing home with a hip injury. On Sunday, the LEO Club (Let’s Eat Out), will enjoy brunch at West Point.
In their handsome waterfront building adjacent to Scenic Hudson Park, on this Thursday the day begins with an exercise class led by Barbara Zinman. The dozen in the window-lined room do low-impact aerobics to Big Band tunes. Zinman jokes that she’s never seen so many workers outside – “you’d think they were doing heart surgery” as they complete the renovation of the basketball court surrounded by a new fence the seniors aren’t thrilled about. They often sit outside near the memorial for a beloved former member Ray DeLuca and enjoy the river view with a newspaper and a cup of coffee.
The building they’ve inhabited since 2001 “is like a second home,” they say, as it pleasantly flows from cozy room to room. Upstairs is the sunny hall of tables where bingo happens later, each table with a bowl of Cheetos. (Armstrong says she gave up trying to force healthy food on these folks.) Downstairs Morris Lamberti, one of three men wearing a Yankees cap, is talking about his “ladies,” the brood of 11 chickens he tends at home, whose eggs he’s known to distribute here.
They can dance it off. Lester Feldman is one of two men in the exercise class. First convinced to come by his wife Bernie a dozen years ago, now he’s a regular. “It’s important. You have to keep the body going.” Bernie also recruited Elise Martin around the same time, when she saw her hiking around town. “We do proselytize,” Feldman said.
Martin said when the Feldmans encouraged her to come, her reaction was, “Me? Senior Center?” Now she too is a fan of the exercise and holiday parties. “I love this setting,” Martin said, “It’s a well-kept secret.”
For a senior center, it seems pretty hopping. Armstrong said they are 250 members strong. The membership fee is $20 annually for residents 55 and up. There used to be a leadership board, but she finds that the younger members prefer to do the Zumba or yoga class and move on without getting more involved.
Armstrong seems like the social director of a really happy cruise ship, but she also gets to be very intimate with people’s aging and the issues associated; she does her best to help in any way she can to ease them along their journey. There was a member who died with nothing left for her own funeral, so Armstrong called Immaculate Conception which offered up a really nice ceremony at no cost, complete with singer and organist. “It was something she would have wanted and deserved; it just shows how we feel about each other.”
“It’s become like a family,” said Armstrong. “I was with them when they were younger and see the changes physically and mentally. I’m there to support them and their families. It’s a really gratifying job.”
“Joan keeps us together,” Carol Gazzetta said. “She goes beyond what she needs to do.”
It’s not all bridge games and brunches. On Tuesday they’ll discuss memory loss; in October they’ll get their flu shots. Some are away now getting a ride to their monthly podiatry appointment. On Wednesdays they go food shopping at Stop and Shop.
“The village is very supportive of the Senior Program,” Armstrong said. “They’ve given so much to the village in their lives, and the village knows it’s time to give back.”
“If we didn’t have this place to come down to, we’d be lost,” Margie DePaolo said.
For more information on the Irvington Seniors call 914.591.7786. The center is located at 29 Bridge Street, Irvington.