MONMOUTH — A lot has changed in the nearly 29 years since Sue Teal first took the job as the director at the Monmouth Senior Center.
“It was so quiet, I used to call my friends up and say, ‘please come have lunch with me,’” Teal, 67, recalled. “In the summer, it was so quiet, no one came in the door.”
When she started, she was 38 years old; the building was two years old; and the senior center had about 85 members, Teal said. The center had no newsletter, no calendar, and few programs.
“I was replacing someone who was 80,” she said. “They didn’t know if it would work out because I was so much younger than they were.”
But Teal said God gave her a love for seniors.
“I have looked at it as a ministry more than a job,” she said. “When I first started, I said I want everybody that comes through this door to know they’re cared for, that we love them, and we want to meet their needs.”
She started talking to people to see what programs they’d like and what they’d like to do at the senior center. Twenty-nine years and four remodels later, a calendar packed with classes and potlucks, collaborations with Western Oregon University, community breakfast and a lively travel program and it’s clear: Sue Teal was just what the senior center needed.
“We probably average 100 (visitors) a day,” Teal said. “To get down time, I have to leave the building.”
Her favorite activity is the annual Victorian Tea.
“Last year, we sold out in two days,” Teal said. “It’s become very popular. People call months ahead wondering when the date is and when they can get tickets. And I love the way it brings the community together.”
It takes about 80 volunteers to put on the tea, Teal said, from WOU’s soccer team to the senior center’s yoga group.
“Another favorite of mine is the travel,” she said. “I used to drive all the trips. I can’t do that now because I’m too busy, but we went for a five-day trip in June, and it was so much fun.”
Organized trips with the senior center isn’t a structured thing, Teal said, but more like taking a vacation with family.
“When we went to Leavenworth (Wash.), we were planning on stopping for an hour,” Teal recalled. “We got there, and it was an accordion festival. We changed our minds and stayed three or four hours and had lunch. It’s like your family and you’re going on a trip, and you see things that you don’t know you’re going to see, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Teal was able to start the travel program thanks to a $5,000 donation left to the center by a woman who passed away.
They used the money to buy a used van. Through other money raised and donated, the center was able to upgrade the van through the years.
“In 2000, we bought the van we have now,” Teal said. “We had a couple on our travel committee very passionate about wanting a bus. They passed away and in memorial, they gave us $12,000 for a new bus, so now we’re trying to raise enough money to get something that’s easier access.”
At 67, Teal said she is ready to retire, though she will miss the people.
“In one respect, I want to retire,” Teal said. “My husband’s been retired for five years. We’ve already bought a fifth-wheel. We have plans of traveling.”
Teal said the center and its members are in good hands as plans are full steam ahead for more programs, more outreach and more caring for the seniors in the Monmouth and Independence communities.
“It will be hard to say goodbye, but knowing I can go back and help,” Teal said. “I’ll probably go to the potluck (in December) just to go to the potluck. I won’t be working, but I will still pop in and do some of the fun things. I’ll get to see the people. That’s where my heart is. There’s good in everybody, that’s what we need to be looking for.”
She said she could not have done it without the amazing spirit of volunteers.
“I just wanted to say that in those 28 years, I could have done nothing without the support of so many people that came to our center and volunteered their time,” Teal said. “I started doing everything alone, and as people started pitching in, I could do so much more. I couldn’t have done it without them. The love and support they have given, that’s what made the difference here.”