In early October, at a late-morning meeting of the North Riverside Golden Agers social club, the long tables were filled with chatting seniors, passing the time until lunch was served, while club president Mildred Decosola, 84, and Vice President Arlene Biba, 83, were rolling out the welcome mat to a few new members.
Soon, Biba, a longtime bingo game caller, would be flipping on the electronic ball bubbler machine for another rousing round of bingo, a proven crowd pleaser.
For these 50 or so age-60-plussers, creating connectivity through fellowship, and playing pinochle, rummy, bunko and yes, bingo, is par for the course. It is also why on Nov. 17, 1969 this socially-driven “generational” gathering for senior citizens in North Riverside was born, says Teresa Michalik, North Riverside’s director of parks and recreation.
Nowadays, with a few minor day-of technical assists from her department, the autonomous club for seniors is flourishing, thanks to the ongoing support from Riverside Township, an annual pitch-in of $5,000, and the village of North Riverside, which annually donates $2,500, she says. To join, members pay $10 per year.
“To help out, we offer our bus services for them to get here, if they call in and schedule a ride,” Michalik says. “Honestly, recently the Golden Agers have seen an influx of local residents, and seniors from neighboring towns, which is exciting.”
Dorothy Tvrdik, 94, a long time resident of North Riverside, first paid her dues 33 years ago and has not let them lapse.
“We play bingo, and cards and have fun, you know. I think you probably don’t age as fast by getting out and being with people,” she said. “I think you need to be active as much as you possibly can.”
Henrietta Draus, 88, was a former club secretary, and its current “sunshine lady.” She’s been an active member since 1990.
“I send out cards to sick people, and birthday cards, so all that comes from me,” she said.
Not settling to be homebound, is why she keeps coming back the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
“If you don’t get out of the house and meet people, you will go stir crazy because you can’t just sit home and clean house all the time.”
Her only criticism is “we do not have too many men,” she laughs.
One table over, though, is 69-year-old John Demetrakakes, a new member who jokes he came to “play bingo with the old ladies … no really, it is a lot of fun.”
The twice-a-month lunch bunch also go on fun outings, and hold “business meetings” featuring speakers who talk about everything from the nuances of Medicare and tax preparation to hearing speakers that address better ways to manage diabetes, as well as the ins and outs of home and personal safety, which is covered by speakers from the North Riverside police and fire departments.
Golden Agers’ youngest member, Mary Klaus, 62, joined a month after moving to North Riverside. She says “the ladies are very friendly” and have helped her to quickly acquaint herself with her new community.
“A lot of people my age stay in their home and they cannot go anyplace because they don’t function very well anymore,” Decosola says. “They can’t go anywhere too far, but we are right in the neighborhood, so they can get here.”