In 1967, Charles E. Beatley, Jr., became mayor of Alexandria. In 1968 Senior Services of Alexandria was founded "to confront age discrimination in employment." Last Friday night the two looked back over 35 years of history.
"We went through a period when things were very tight. There was the thought that the elderly couldn't produce as much," Beatley remembered. "We felt we really had to do something for seniors."
He also recalled that it was a time when Alexandria was very much separate communities. Black and white. Southerners and outsiders. Old time power structure and newcomers.
"We needed a mixing bowl and Senior Services turned out to be that vehicle," Beatley said.
Susan Dawson, executive director of Senior Services said, "It was an organization created to bridge the racial divide of the community, through a common mission, to provide employment opportunities for seniors that would enable them to maintain their independence and self sufficiency and age with dignity in their own community.
"It is the legacy of this original vision that has made Senior Services the premier not-for-profit organization in the area, offering a continuum for our elderly residents."
At the Raddison Hotel in Old Town, Beatley's "mixing bowl" and many of its successors came together again to celebrate the organization's 35th anniversary under the banner, "A Legacy of Leadership." It focused the spotlight on its founding members and past presidents in a tribute of thanks.
OF THE 16 founding members only four were present to join with the 17 past presidents. Only one of those present, Lewis A. Stearman, served in both positions. He served as Senior Services' second president.
As Beatley explained, it was a very different Alexandria in the mid- 1960's. "When I took office there were three flags at City Hall — American, Virginia, and Confederate. We'd take down the Confederate flag and others would come along and put it back up. It was a constant test of wills."
Mary Ann Ormes, another founder, who also served as Senior Services' director from 1974 to 1998, recalled, "Nobody from the city employment services had enough time to spend with older people. Many people did not want to just sit at home. They wanted to remain active and knew they had something to contribute."
Founder and former Alexandria City Council member, Nelson E. Greene, noted, "That attitude has changed completely. We've had great support from City Council. But, we could always use some more money. There are a lot of things that need to be done."
Looking back over the years of growth and change, Stearman said, "I'm very pleased with the way the organization has matured. It is doing so much more now."
Current Senior Services' president, Linda Couture, agreed. "Although employment is still a very important element of our efforts we are expanding into regional programs such as money management and our Guardianship Program," she said.
The latter program is designed to aid those who have no one else to help them, according to Couture. "When we get such a person they are our responsibility for life," she said.
ANOTHER ENDEAVOR OF Senior Services is Companion Care, according to Dr. George A. Pera, a past president and co-chair, along with Phyllis J. Bogle, of the anniversary celebration. "There is a lot of administrative elements to this program because it requires careful screening."
Pera also emphasized the organization could use more money for various community outreach programs. "We just wish that the people with the money would focus more on Senior Services," Pera noted.
Other programs operated by Senior Services are Home Care, Senior Taxi, Alexandria's paratransit system for the mobility impaired known as DOT, and Emergency Assistance which provides financial aid to senior in time of crisis.
In 2000, Senior Services was recognized by Alexandria's Commission on Aging with the "Excellence in Aging" award for its contributions to the city's aging population. As part of Alexandria's 250th birthday tribute, it, along with a number of other local organizations, produced the documentary film, "Agents of Change." It focuses on 15 community activists, age 70 and older, who have influenced change in the city over the past 50 years.
Topping off Friday night's festivities was the cutting of the anniversary cake by all the founders and past presidents present. In addition to those in attendance the other founders were Arthur J. Bruner, Mildred F. Councilor, L.H. Dudley, Marion Moncure Duncan, Marion G. Gallard, S. Nelson Gray, Elizabeth C. MacRae, E. Guy Ridgely, Annie B. Rose, Leon N. Taylor, William F. Vosbeck, and Constance Votey. Joining Stearman in both roles as founder and past president were Gallard and Vosbeck.
Past presidents honored, in addition to those mentioned, were James N. Hayman, Carolyn Hodgin, Lawrence D. Day, Carl W. Beyer, William Loichot, John T. Kane, Diane M. Yawn, Carter Land, III, John F. Hughes, Donnan C. Wintermute, James J. Hanagan, Richard G. Cole, Jr., and Dick Walker.