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Seniors have great variety of activities

When Bucky Kimmett was a college basketball star in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was known for his sweet shooting. These days he can't jump quite as high, but he still has the touch.

Kimmett, 75, and the other members of Towson's Bykota Senior Center team play basketball four times a week -- and they've competed several times in the Maryland and national Senior Olympics a number of times.

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Kimmett, a retired high school math teacher and coach who played decades ago at what is now Towson University, says the team members enjoy themselves, and still take the game seriously.

"We're not going to play the [Washington] Wizards," he says. "But the basketball we play is pretty good."

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Not all Baltimore County seniors are sprinting up and down the court, but most are doing more than playing pinochle. The county's nearly 140,000 seniors -- the largest elderly population in the state, according to the county Department of Aging -- are involved in a range of pursuits, from woodworking to line dancing, world history courses to long-distance bicycling.

The county's 18 senior centers play a central role in these activities, organizing many of them and providing space for others.

"The senior centers are a destination point," said Arnold Appel, director of the Department of Aging, which oversees the centers.

One morning in the noisy, sawdust-filled woodshop at Bykota Senior Center, seven men were making clocks.

Working in the woodshop is such a popular activity that there's a six-month waiting list.

Others prefer a classroom setting. Every Tuesday at Ateaze Senior Center in Dundalk, 74-year-old Lorraine Raber takes a full day of classes organized by the Community College of Baltimore County's Senior Institute.

"The classes have been wonderful and very enlightening," said Raber, who has taken courses every semester for years. Subjects include the history of film production, comparative religions and creative writing. Classes are held at senior centers, retirement communities, and CCBC campuses.

The courses offer all the stimulation of academia without the downside, jokes Judy Landis, who coordinates the program for CCBC.

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"There are no tests and no homework," she says. "It's just about learning."

Others, like Kimmett, are involved in more physical pursuits. Besides basketball, there are softball and volleyball leagues. Classes are offered in ballroom and line dancing, yoga and armchair exercises. At the Cockeysville and Liberty Road centers, seniors can work out in the gym. YMCA branches in the county offer discounted memberships for seniors.

Every Friday, the Cycling Seniors, a group of about 40 bicyclists, goes on a 30- to 40-mile ride.

"I have problems keeping up with most of them," said Margie Swift, director of Ateaze Senior Center.

The centers also provide resources on living well. They offer lectures, discussion groups and counseling on a variety of health-related subjects. There are book clubs and gatherings for other enthusiasts.

"We just get together and run our trains and talk about it," said Louis Brown, a member of Parkville Senior Center's Model Railroaders.

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Many retirees love traveling, and Baltimore County offers plenty of group opportunities. Trips to places as close as Washington and as far away as Hawaii are organized by the centers. The Senior Institute also organizes learning vacations all over the world, as well as trips for grandparents and grandchildren.

Area seniors also stay active by helping those who are less fortunate. More than 1,800 county seniors volunteer with a wide variety of organizations, including hospitals, schools, parks, and nonprofit groups, according to the Department of Aging. Much of this work is organized by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program at the department.

Tom Murtaugh, 69, a member of the Bykota basketball team, volunteers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, helping disabled children with physical therapy. He also works for Home Team, a county program that helps seniors with daily tasks they can no longer do themselves.

Retired nurse Lois Boyd is a volunteer instructor for the Homeland Security Preparedness Training Program, which teaches community groups to help deal with terrorist attacks and other emergencies. In addition to that work, Boyd, 65, offers blood pressure screenings at the Department of Aging, writes a monthly medical column for the county's senior newspaper and was recently elected president of the Bykota Senior Council.

For many seniors, getting involved has made a big difference in their lives.

After her husband's death several years ago, Priscilla Caasi was desperately lonely. Then she decided to try line dancing.

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"It saved my life," said Caasi, 74, a retired biochemist.

She dances almost every day, teaches classes at Bykota Senior Center and is part of a group at the Overlea-Fullerton Senior Center that competes in the Senior Line Dancing Expo every year -- and usually wins.

"I'm busier now," said Caasi, "than when I was working."


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