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Retiring boomers will change community activity programming

The pool room at the Willmar Community and Activity Center is used daily. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 2
LeAnne Freeman is the recreation supervisor and coordinator at the Willmar Community and Activity Center. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

Aging is the dominant demographic trend in Minnesota and across the country. The number of Minnesotans over the age of 65 will more than double over the next 25 years — to 1.3 million.

Statewide, there will be more individuals over 65 than those who are school age by 2020, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

The numbers will significantly affect the kinds of services residents look to local governments to provide.

The baby boom generation — individuals born between 1946 and 1964 — started turning 60 in 2006. This generation differs from previous ones in many ways. Aging has changed due to better overall health. Also, surveys show that most people is this age group expect life to continue “as is,’’ contributing to a trend of aging-in-place at home instead of moving to retirement or nursing homes.

Even the attitude of what constitutes a senior citizen is changing. Boomers don’t see themselves as playing bingo or cards and drinking coffee at the community center or volunteering for a job that requires no special skills.

Boomers want to be active in their retirement. They want to volunteer in an effort that puts their particular career skills to good use.

Attributes such as these will challenge cities to offer the types of programming that will attract retired boomers to local community centers.

The league said that cities may have a role as convener of organizations and resources. To keep seniors involved and to use boomers’ skills and experience, cities could consider volunteer programs and civic and contributory opportunities.

“What’s so unusual with the baby boomers coming up is they are living longer. We have different age groups and generations of what we would call the senior population,’’ said LeAnne Freeman, recreation supervisor and coordinator at the Willmar Community and Activity Center. She has worked with senior programs for 22 years for the city of Willmar.

“Before it was just you were a senior. Now there’s categories of seniors, and baby boomers are a group that do not like to be called seniors. They’re changing the image of what a senior is. They want to be called experienced or mature,’’ said Freeman.

“But then there is the older generation of seniors that to them a senior has a totally different meaning altogether,’’ added Freeman, herself a boomer.

Freeman said the senior club told her that she could join the club when she turned 55. Her response to the group, which has an average age of 82, was no. The age difference between her and the club is 25 to 30 years and she said the club was doing activities that she was not interested in.

Another boomer trend is their interest in staying active. Freeman said she personally would rather go hiking or do some other kind of physical activity.

“We want to stay in shape. That is one of our top priorities. We want to keep involved,’’ Freeman said.

The most difficult of part of her job going forward will be getting input from boomers on the types of programs they would like to see at the center, formerly known as the Senior Citizens Center.

“I know a lot of places across the country are changing their name from senior centers and we have changed ours,’’ she said.

Freeman said many centers, whether municipal or private, are changing their programs and are seeing success with those changes. She said changes here will happen gradually because she is currently the only staff person working at the center, located on Business 71 North.

 “Those who are retiring want things to do, to learn, new hobbies to gain, hang out with people their own age or perhaps do some teaching. They’re community-minded and want to give back to something specific to their skills. A lot of us will work longer.  A lot of centers are looking at changing their hours to accommodate those kinds of programs and activities to get them involved,’’ Freeman said.

During the past 15 years, the center has made huge changes in what’s been accomplished and she thinks the program will keep growing and expanding on that.

“It’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to what we can offer out here and maybe outgrow the building and uses,’’ she said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150