CLEARWATER - "It's really a disgrace that a city the size of Clearwater has no senior social center, while a smaller town like Dunedin has a beautiful center which offers a wide range of activities for seniors," Bonnie Mann stated last week as she signed a petition calling for a senior social center in Clearwater. It's not like there never was one. The Seymour-Bell Senior Social Center at 940 Court Street was closed more than two years ago. Mann was one of the many canasta, bridge or pinochle players who enjoyed the fun and fellowship of weekly games at the once thriving facility. At one time, on Wednesday afternoons, more than 100 persons could be found playing bridge in the main hall. If you were to visit the facility on Thursday afternoons, you might have found a group playing chess in one room while a beginner computer class was under way in an adjacent room. There were lip-reading classes for persons with hearing problems. You could sign up for art classes, knitting workshops or a creative writing class. You could even learn the art of upholstery or a foreign language there. Then one day it all came to an end. Members showed up to find the doors locked and the center closed. It has been empty and unoccupied ever since, Mann laments. The classes and card sessions aren't the only things they miss, she said. It's also the live entertainment on Sunday afternoons, the tea dances, day excursions, cruises and other activities they shared with fellow members.
Bernice Lazar, former social director of the center, advised in an article that appeared in the Gazette in 1996 that the programs did not cost the taxpayers anything as the center relied on its membership for funds. Anyone 55 or older was eligible to join and at one time, some 7,000 persons were registered as members. Dues at that time were $5 per individual or $7.50 per couple. Lazar said about 1,000 persons took part in one program or another each week. Lazar, who oversaw the activities at the center for over 12 years, was not working at the facility when it closed.
Mann said many of the former card players have been meeting weekly at the William Hale Activity Center in Dunedin, but advised "it is just too far to travel to for the other activities such as the dances, trips, classes and Sunday shows we looked forward to at our old center." So Mann and others are collecting signatures on a petition which they plan to present to city officials. The petition reads as follows: "The undersigned respectfully request that our elected officials take action in the near future about the lack of a senior social center in Clearwater."
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