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Never too old to enjoy life

by Gercine Carter

Never too old to enjoy life

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Calypsonian Red Plastic Bag’s 2009  Crop-Over hit Something’s Happening blasts from a stereo system and Euretha Ramsay is dancing around the room,in step with the rhythm, hands in the air, hips swaying.Her agility belies the reality of the age of a woman three months shy of her 100th birthday. For her this exercise session at the Soroptimist Activity Centre at Eden Lodge represents an escape from a day at home alone, to a place where she is assured of the camaraderieof other seniors.“I come here for the fellowship we share with each other, because with your family out at work during the day, it is not the same at home,” Ramsay remarks. There is a vibrancy in the way she talks about her life when she managed a Speightstown business with her late husband, about her family in whom she clearly delights, and about  her many travels though she says she has decided to resign her travel gear. Ramsay is one of the regulars for whom the Soroptimist Activity Centre has become a welcome outlet for recreation. She has been going there every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the last 17 years, to join other senior citizens for exercise sessions, games and craft lessons that last from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon.On this Tuesday morning, Hildegarde Weekes is among the 30 or more women and men at the centre. As a Soroptimist 17 years ago, she  conceptualised the village for active senior citizens. Today there are 24 utility housing units built in five clusters, with residents who themselves find an engaging outlet for recreation in the adjacent Activity Centre.“I come here two days a week”, the 91-year-old Weekes remarked to the Weekend Nation.She paused briefly from the Word Find game in which she was engrossed to say: “I noticed that many old people were at home with nothing to do. I felt we (the Soroptimists) should start a place where we could get together and do something, bring in lecturers, doctors, specialists to share with the older folk.”  In tribute to her vision, the centre was renamed the Hildegarde Weekes Activity Centre three years ago.   A staff of three, led by administrator Sentka Brewster, together with a cadre of volunteers, many of them Soroptimists, as well as retired nurses, oversee a programme that includes island tours, concerts, lectures, games, arts and crafts, singing and exercise sessions.   This Tuesday morning a group of seniors, some with arthritis, a few in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, animatedly work out with instructor Rosemary Neilands to catchy calypso music. They exercise neck, shoulders, upper body and legs from a sitting position. As the tempo quickens, it is time to stand and shake a leg around the room, and they all do, joined by a few Soroptimists. But there are others who indulge in Scrabble, Pokeno and other table games.   Men are few in the crowd. Among them, Rupert Maloney and Percy Rice stand out. The banter between Maloney and Cynthia Moore amuses all sitting around the table, where Moore sits covering clothes hangers with a colourful  braided design.    To the onlooker, this is clearly a normal feature whenever these two meet at the Activity Centre. Seventy-eight-year-old Maloney has been a regular for the past ten years.    “I just come along because it is somewhere to come to make a change from being at home because I am retired,” he explains. He once played cards and Pokeno, but claims pressure on his arthritic legs from long periods of sitting, forced him to give up that activity. And he jests: “I just sit down and gossip.”Percy Rice and his wife returned to Barbados in 1993 after living in Britain for many years. When a friend introduced him to the Soroptimist Acitivity Centre, he found a welcoming environment with “so many seniors here that we had grown up together”.Finding himself the only man among the women for a long time, he  threw himself into craft, sometimes teaching the women.“I caught on to most of the things they do, and when a teacher was not around they would call me to help them do it.” Doreen Murray-Thompson also sits at the table, simply observing and sharing the camaraderie. She has given way to Sentka Brewster, who now runs the centre. But Murray-Thompson recalls an even more vibrant period when she and her sister Elise Murray were at the helm. Nowadays she continues to go to centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays to lend support.Ramsay, the grand dame of the centre, also reflects on those early days when she busied herself with craft. But according to her, most of the people who taught have passed on. These days, she whiles away the time reading, after completing her exercise routine.She maintains it is “an excellent place”, and even as she approaches a century on October 18, days at the Hildegarde Weekes Activity Centre remain the high point of her weekly social calendar.