Aging Well in the Chippewa Valley
Work Underway on L.E. Phillips Senior Center Expansion
addition will add much-needed space for exercise, learning
Eau Claire’s population is getting older, but thanks to an upcoming addition to the L.E. Phillips Senior Center, it will soon be getting more fit and better-educated, too.
In mid-September the senior center broke ground on a long-awaited $3 million expansion that will add 4,000 square feet to the building, including a new fitness gym and several multipurpose rooms. The addition on the building’s west side will allow the center to expand its fitness offerings, giving seniors more space to work on critical areas like balance and strength. Currently, the center’s fitness area is in the basement (although fitness classes have shifted online since the pandemic began). In turn, the previous workout space will be remodeled to allow the center to expand its educational programming, filling seniors’ desires to keep their brains as active as their bodies.
“What a senior center does is gets people out of their homes and connects them with people of like interest,” said Executive Director Mary Pica-Anderson. Whether those interests involve playing Scrabble or taking strength-training classes, the senior center tries to meet the needs of anyone in Eau Claire 50 or older. About 2,000 people participate in senior center activities annually, and hundreds more stop in for an occasional class or a cup of coffee, Pica-Anderson said.
The expansion, which is expected to be finished by next May, was made possible by a $1.1 million matching grant from the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation, as well as the generosity of many other businesses, foundations, and individuals.
This year, much of what the L.E. Phillips Senior Center does has shifted online because of the coronavirus pandemic, including fitness classes. Fitness instructor Steve Olson has found himself teaching larger classes than usual online, and the virtual format has enabled seniors from as far away as Arizona and Texas to participate. Some classes may remain online after the pandemic is under control, but Olson said he looks forward to the new space, which will allow the center to offer a greater number and variety of fitness classes.
And while fitness is what first drew Olson to the senior center more than 15 years ago, the opportunity to make like-minded friends has made the center a second home for him and many other seniors. At the center, older adults who have lost spouses, experienced divorce, or dealt with medical conditions can find others who share those experiences. “Without socialization, people die – emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually,” Olson said during a Sept. 15 ground-breaking ceremony.
Pica-Anderson said that research has found that older people who are involved in senior centers are better able to delay and manage chronic diseases and experience improvements in their social, emotional, and physical well-being. And, as the population continues to age, demand for senior center services likely will rise: In 10 years, all baby boomers will be 65 years or older, and one in five Americans will be past retirement age. Just a few years after that, in 2034, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that for the first time in U.S. History there will be more people 65 or older than under 18.
In the words of Jim Deignan, president of the senior center’s board of directors, “the silver tsunami is real.” Now, with any luck, the Chippewa Valley will be better equipped to ride the wave.
Learn more about the L.E. Phillips Senior Center at lephillipsseniorcenter.com or facebook.com/lephillipsseniorcenter, by calling (715) 839-4909, or by visiting 1616 Bellinger St., Eau Claire.
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