After months facing closure, the Skyway Senior Center has found a long-term benefactor in Medica's Center for Healthy Aging, which will pitch in $125,000 for three years to keep the popular gathering place open.
No one is more relieved than the patrons who flock to the 950 Nicollet Mall center.
Shirley Poliquin visits the newly renamed Medica Skyway Senior Center nearly every day. She has many things to do Downtown, she said, and can't do them all at once. When she gets tired or her shopping bags are full, she stops at the center, "a safe, clean place to hang out," Poliquin said over a cup of coffee. "I've met a lot of new friends."
It's the socializing she mainly goes in for, and she takes part in the book club and vintage movie showings. She sang in the "Skylarks" ensemble until the volunteer director moved and the group disbanded.
Like many seniors, Poliquin lives alone. She finds community at the center. For many months, that community was in jeopardy as funding was cut and reserves dwindled to almost nothing.
"We'd go home and check our purses to see if we could give a little more," Poliquin said.
Someone gave a lot more. This spring, Robert Keuhn, Jr. gave $25,000 in memory of his father Robert Kuehn, Sr., who Kuehn said "took great pleasure in visiting the center" before he passed away.
The gift kept the center's doors open in May and June. The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association also gave $20,000, and challenged others to match it. Neither was long-term fix, however.
That came from Medica, whose partnership began July 1.
"The Skyway Senior Center fulfills a very real need for seniors to have a place to gather, have social contact and learn," said Medica's Mark Owen, vice president and general manager of the Center for Healthy Aging. "It seemed like a natural opportunity to extend what Medica's already doing to support seniors."
Like many patrons, Randy Wilson also volunteers at the Senior Center. Wilson walks there four times a week from his one-bedroom apartment near Downtown's Main Post Office. He compared volunteering to work he's done at church for 21 years.
"There's really no difference," Wilson said, taking a break from reading the newspaper in a comfortable couch. "The social and community aspect does seem quite similar."
He added, "A big plus is I can read the paper."
Chuck Welch sat nearby. Welch worked at the Sears store on Lake Street from 1954 until he retired in 1990.
Now, he lives in Richfield because he can't afford to live in the city, but he gets his dose of Downtown by walking in the skyways, and he stops in at the senior center about once a week.
"I'm used to the city," Welch said. "I like urban life. I like tall buildings."
He first started coming while his wife underwent weekly dialysis treatments, he said, and he continued to come after she passed away.
"It's a great place to talk with people of your generation," Welch said. "They understand your problems; you understand theirs."
Welch joked that he's looking for a rich widow, but that "most of them are too smart for me."
He, called the center "cosmopolitan," and, like Wilson, likened the social and community value to his church, where he's been lay leader for 25 years.
Welch challenged the "fallacy" that seniors don't like change. He said change is fine "as long as it progresses towards good."
But the loss of the Skyway Senior Center would not be good change, Welch said.
"I'm glad Medica took it up," he said. "If it were taken away, I would surely miss it."
The Skyway Senior Center is located on the skyway level near the corner of South 10th Street & LaSalle Avenue. The phone number is 370-3869.