On Feb. 1, 1966, the Laurel Senior Friendship Club was formed by six women who wanted to "share the joy of growing old together," according to the club's website.
Twenty-eight members began meeting at Laurel Presbyterian Church on Sandy Spring Road. Current club secretary Joyce Weir, 85, a member and volunteer since 1992, believes it was "a rare thing" for seniors to have such a resource when the organization began.
On Friday night, members gathered for a dinner-dance at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center to celebrate the Laurel Senior Friendship Club's 50-year anniversary.
Dressed for the formal dinner dance that would begin at 6 p.m., close to 130 people began gathering in the lobby at 5 p.m. for hors d'oeuvres, commemorative photo shoots and piano music performed by Wilma Vazquaz. Volunteers Carol Cook and Pauline Pivowar registered the attendees as they arrived.
Lingering outside to enjoy a bit of casual conversation with club member Helen Rushing, 87, Prince George's County Councilwoman Mary Lehman said she's been aware of the "good work the club has done" for seniors for years.
"Fifty years is a remarkable milestone," she said. "It's exciting."
The Prince George's County Division of Services and Programs for the Aging chartered the group in 1969 as the Laurel Senior Friendship Club.
Members met at the old Laurel High School, now the Phelps Center on Montgomery Street, in each other's homes and back at Laurel Presbyterian Church until 1974, when then-Laurel Mayor Leo Wilson dedicated the former City Hall at Ninth and Montgomery streets as the Laurel Senior Center.
During the 1980s, the club moved to the Phelps Senior Center in the former Laurel High building.
Chuck Hulberg, who died in 2007, served as the club president from 1988 to 1994, and the club's membership grew substantially during his tenure.
Hulberg subsequently served on the Laurel City Council from 1994 to 1996, where he continued to advocate for Laurel's seniors, especially relating to "budgetary concerns," according to Mayor Craig Moe.
Moe said Friday that attending Laurel Senior Friendship Club events always brings him fond memories of Hulberg.
"Chuck always reminded us about the seniors, the programs and making sure we met their needs," he said. "His slogan one year was, 'Always think positive.' "
"Think Positive" remains the club's official motto today.
Although she doesn't know the names of the six women who started the club, Weir said she thinks they'd be pleased.
"Wouldn't they be surprised to see how long we've been going and how we've grown," she said.
In 2011, the Laurel Senior Friendship Club moved into the newly constructed, state-of-the-art Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center operated by Prince George's County.
The move was the culmination of a dream for Nan Tripp, 84, a past club president who chaired the 50th anniversary planning committee.
Tripp said she joined the club in 1991 and began volunteering on the newsletter distribution committee. After serving on many committees and the board, Tripp was elected president in 2001. The first item on her agenda with the executive board, she said, was to promote moving the club to a new center.
"That was my dream and my plan," Tripp said.
The charitable corporation All Together for Laurel Area Seniors formed for the purpose with Tripp as vice president. This group, which was known as ATLAS, was joined by members of the Beltsville Young at Heart Club, AARP, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association and the West Laurel community in supporting and promoting construction of the new center, Tripp said.
Former Prince George's County Councilman Tom Dernoga, of West Laurel, and state Del. Barbara Frush, a Beltsville resident, helped raise more than $9.5 million for construction.
Moe said the city was glad to see the Laurel Senior Friendship Club's move to the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center.
"We worked for a lot of years with a lot of different people to get the facility that's here; it's a county facility," he said. "There's a lot more that goes on here from the senior perspective; it takes money and staff and a lot of things that [the city] just didn't have."
Today, the club's goal is to contribute to the quality of life for Laurel's seniors, to make their remaining years as "rewarding, active, interesting and independent as possible."
Among the services the club provides its 470 members ages 50 and older are social, educational and travel activities.
During office hours at the center, members can use a photocopy machine, computer and telephone at no charge, and equipment is available for people with physical handicaps.
"Every event here is a celebration of life for our seniors and our beautiful new facility," Tripp said.
Praise from members
Laurel resident Anna Rose Bland, who turned 91 on Sept. 16, was delighted to attend the celebration with family members. Bland said that when she saw that it was going to be on the same day, as her birthday, she prayed to be healthy enough to attend.
"I think this will be the thing I enjoy the most this year," she said. "I feel good."
Jean Flannick, 83, a club member since the early 1990s, has traveled to the Fiji Islands, New Zealand, Australia and China with the Laurel Senior Friendship Club. The club has changed in the 25 years she and her husband have been members, she said; some of the faces are younger.
"It's nice to see the younger members coming in," Flannick said.
Helen Rushing, who will be 88 next year (and thus eligible for the club's free lifetime membership), said she really appreciates the travel activities and the computer classes.
"They're affordable and the teachers have the patience of Job," Rushing said.