The Great Room of Ellicott City Senior Center was filled with the spirit of the Fourth of July as nearly 125 seniors donned the nation's colors, sang patriotic songs and enjoyed a musical review of American history.
Tuesday's Red, White and Blue Celebration is one example of an array of activities offered at the center, whose membership has ballooned in the past year.
The Ellicott City facility, one of 10 senior centers in the county, has experienced rapid growth since June last year, when it moved to a new building and lowered the age limit for participants from 65 to 50. Enrollment surged from 500 last year to more than 2,000 this year.
Howard County's population of senior citizens is expected to triple over the next three decades.
"We are able to offer better and more interesting programs, and the beautiful building attracts more seniors," said Carla Buehler, the director of the center. "It doesn't seem like an old place, does it?"
The center, which covers a little less than 3 acres, expanded from a room at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Ellicott City to 13 rooms at the new building behind the Miller branch library. The 12,500-square-foot building provides room for a variety of activities, such as massage, aerobics, yoga and poker.
The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and serves a free lunch catered by Overlea Catering everyday in the Great Room, where the Fourth of July celebration was held.
Bingo nights, dances, table tennis games and field trips to a crab feast, and Hershey and Gettysburg, Pa., are also offered. Blood-pressure testing is held for seniors who sign up every Tuesday morning. June Chun, 69, comes to the center twice a week for exercise, fun and fellowship. Wearing white tennis shoes, tan pants and a green shirt, the Ellicott City resident kicked the air and clapped along with the 14 other women in an aerobics class.
While the Just Us duo of Ed Bulson and Nancy Taylor belted out a spirited rendition of God Bless America in the Great Room, a group of women in the adjacent activity room prepared for a card game of duplicate bridge.
Roberta Feldstein, 70, came early to make sure she had a seat because the six tables fill quickly for Tuesday afternoon bridge games. "My only complaint is this room is not big enough," said Feldstein, who thinks the center should add one or more tables to the room. "I love to play bridge."
In the crafts room, Don Haddaway, 76, sat in front of an oil painting of fruit. He took out his paintbrushes to prepare for a Tuesday afternoon social for seniors who share a talent in painting. "There is no instruction. We just get together and critique each other's work," he said. An art show displaying the group's work is planned next month.
In the game room, Raymond Spencer, 68, sat around a green-felt poker table with red, white and blue chips, getting ready for a poker game with three friends. "It's good companionship. It gives us something to do," Spencer said about the group.
The center also provides computer classes ranging from using a mouse, to using the Internet and making spreadsheets.
The Ellicott City center tries to accommodate the less active in the Senior-Plus program. In a more structured environment, these seniors participated in holiday activities by making red, white, and blue ornaments for the small, table-size Christmas tree that stays up year-round. The cost of the senior day care program is based on household income.
Marilyn Cahill, 72, who was at the center for the Fourth of July party, comes to the center several times a week to socialize during lunch, field trips and other events. "I wish every senior in Howard County would come," she said.