When the Robert A. Pascal Senior Center opened in 1979, the parking lot was half-empty.
Want proof that times change? "The biggest thing that we need now is more parking spaces," says Claude Todd of Glen Burnie.
And he would know: The 79-year-old retired welder and his wife, Mary, 78, a retired seamstress, have been going to the center nearly every weekday for 13 years.
Like more than 100 other people over age 55, the couple volunteers time there, and takes advantage of programs that draw an average of 175 to 225 people a day.
For more than a decade, Mr. Todd has been helping prepare, serve and clean up after lunch. His wife of 58 years has made the nearly 100 plants that fill a greenhouse and decorate the building her project.
Routinely, the couple arrives about 9:30 a.m. Mrs. Todd gives Jim Harris, a county maintenance worker assigned to the building, a hug on the way in, and then sets about misting, pinching and turning her green charges. From a 12-foot tall Norfolk pine to a window full of red and pink geraniums and begonias, the plants have thrived under her TLC.
The Todds will be there tomorrow, perhaps even arriving a little early, for the center's 13th anniversary celebration. Mr. Todd will get the day off from his volunteer kitchen work. Greenhouse chores will be at a minimum.
The day will start with "casino capers," Las Vegas-style gambling with play money for real prizes. Festivities will continue with an elegant buffet lunch and conclude with a performance by the Harbor Lite Cloggers, said center director Ann Wagner.
Area merchants donated the prizes, while the center's fund-raising board is paying to upgrade the regular $2.30 senior nutrition program meal and for additional catering services.
Pascal is one of the county's oldest senior centers, opening in 1979 along with the Arnold and South County centers. It is the largest of the five in the county and boasts the greatest average daily attend ance -- 193 during the third quarter of this year, said Patricia McGarty, special assistant to the director of the county Department of Aging.
Back in October 1979, only out of curiosity, the Todds drove to the Pascal building on Dorsey Road and attended the ribbon-cutting. They had no plans to return.
"We had the wrong idea. We thought this place was for people below the poverty level," Mr. Todd said.
"I thought it would be for old people -- it wouldn't be a fun thing," Mrs. Todd added.
They made their annual autumn pilgrimage to Daytona Beach, Fla., not giving the center another thought. But one day shortly after their return, they returned to the center, again out of curiosity. What they saw -- people age 55 and up having a good time, reading, chatting, taking classes and the like -- made them want to keep coming back.