The Waunakee Senior Center held its annual “Over 90s” celebration last week. The event recognized nearly four dozen current or soon-to-be nonagenarians living in the area.
This year’s class consisted of 13 men and 34 women, ranging in age from 89 to 107.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they have defied the odds in terms of life expectancy – now estimated at 78.6 years for residents born in the U.S.
“Ninety is a big deal,” said Senior Services Director Cindy Mosiman. “So that’s why we do this, to honor and acknowledge those people 90 years or older and to show them that we appreciate who they are and what they’ve done.”
The gathering has become an annual tradition at the senior center and one of its largest events. More than a hundred people, many of them friends and relatives of those honored, attended last week’s celebration.
They were treated to lunch, dessert and the musical entertainment of Karen Wickham.
A renowned Patsy Cline tribute artist, Wickham performed country hits from the 50s and 60s – songs which remind many seniors of their youth.
“Karen is someone who comes in once a year,” said Program Coordinator Diane Goldensoph. “She interacts really well with the audience, and makes them feel special…So I thought that this would be a fun program to have her participate in.”
Upon signing into the event, each of the honorees had his or her picture taken by a staff member. The pictures were then placed in frames to be hung up on a wall inside the village center lobby.
Once hung, visitors would be welcomed by Waunakee’s 2019 class of nonagenarians.
According to the center director, their faces should encourage community members to reflect upon the lives and legacy of those who have paved a path before them.
“We’ve been doing that for a long time,” Mosiman said. “The receptionist puts each photo in a frame, and places it on the wall. And then you kind of think about the ones who aren’t back this year, because they’ve passed away or moved on.”
During the sign-in procedure, each male honoree received a boutonniere to pin upon his chest and the women were given wrist corsages to identify them as guests of honor.
The program coordinator said that many find the gift special.
“We have had seniors who’ve worn their corsage home and then come back into the center three days later wearing it again,” Goldensoph said, “because they think it’s special. So we know that people really like it.”
The celebration coincided with Older Americans Month, an observance held in May since 1963, when then-president John F. Kennedy proclaimed it “Senior Citizens Month”.
The name was officially changed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter.
Since that time, every president has followed in their footsteps, designating the month of May as Older Americans Month. President Donald Trump issued his own proclamation April 30, 2019.
“Older Americans are treasured members of our communities,” Trump stated. “Their diverse experiences and time-tested wisdom guide younger generations, connect them with our country’s history, and empower them with the confidence to face the future.”
The youngest person recognized at the May 29 event was born in 1929, the year of the devastating stock-market crash which lead to the Great Depression.
The oldest was born in 1912, when the RMS Titanic sunk in the Atlantic Ocean.
They would go on to live through World War II, the infamous space race, the Vietnam Conflict, the invention of the internet, the Reagan administration and the eventual fall of communism.
“What they’ve seen in their lifetime is overwhelming,” Mosiman said. “I think of all the changes I’ve seen myself. But if you’re over 90, there’s a lot of things you’ve seen the world go through. And not all of them are good.”
But for almost all the seniors, the celebration has been a positive experience.
For members like Donald Dahmen, a Westshire resident who turned 90 on May 30, the occasion provided an opportunity to reconnect with friends and neighbors in the community.
“My neighbor signed me up,” Dahmen said. “We think it’s great to get the old people together. Everyone’s happy, and you get to see all of them leave with a smile on their face. So we think it’s great.”
Staff members have already started talking about next year’s celebration, which will take place in May 2020.
The director said she wouldn’t be surprised if there are even more participants.
“Hitting your 90th birthday is a pretty big accomplishment in itself,” Mosiman said. “But now we’re starting to see people live into their hundreds. If that continues, and life expectancy keeps going up, we might have to make it the ‘Over 100’ celebration.”