One of the best methods over the decades of extending community hospitality and a warm welcome is to invite newcomers, neighbours, and friends for a friendly game of cards, a cup of tea and a casual and sociable chit-chat.
Such was the humble beginning of our senior drop-in centres in Ponoka, which actually started out as a men’s only club in the 1960s, and has grown steadily in popularity and keen camaraderie over the years.
This exclusive Men’s Drop In Club was officially opened on Dec. 15, 1969, with Mayor George Loucks cutting the ribbon at the Alberta Government Telephones office on 50th Avenue. Yearly membership was $1 and Proctor Paulsen was the first president. It offered the gentleman from town and the districts the opportunity to share a good cigar, shoot some pool, and relate some of their wild and wonderful tales in quiet comfort around the card table.
Not to be outdone, many of our ladies enjoyed similar gatherings at the long-standing Ladies Rest Room on 51st Avenue, but later set out to convince the men folk that a facility for both men and women would be ideal for our community. This new concept became an exciting reality in 1974, when a fancy new Drop-In Centre for all 55-plus residents was opened in the Ponoka Armories Building across from the railroad tracks. Mayor D.D. Chesney cut the ribbon at the grand opening, Len Shaw was the first president, and the memberships and enthusiasm grew at a rapid pace. Activities included old-time music and dancing, bus trips, games of whist, bridge, crib, bingo, shuffleboard, floor curling and 500, as well as a host of congenial potluck suppers, flea markets, bake sales and other events. The very active members took part in countless community events, put a float in the annual Ponoka Stampede parade, and it was there that our very own Sunshine Singers were organized in 1977, and have entertained around and about town for many decades.
Over the years the Ponoka Drop-In Centre has assisted with the local Meals on Wheels programs, as well as hosting visits from other seniors’ clubs, blood donor clinics, assisting seniors with their income tax, and a number of other community events and fund-raising efforts.
Moving into the 1980s, the membership of the Ponoka Drop-In group was quickly heading toward 400, and the need for their own building had become a top priority. It was at this point that an overwhelming club and community effort was launched that featured countless fund-raising events, wonderful support and donations from the town and districts, and of course the exciting plans for the first Ponoka Drop-In Centre. As well as the formation of building and furnishings committees, club members worked diligently together to promote the fundraising for the proposed $445,000 clubhouse, of which they managed to raise 60 per cent through a supreme community effort. Kindly donations for the proposed new Ponoka Drop-In building came from: District Historical Society, Royal Purple and Elks, Lions and Lioness, Legion Branch #66 Ladies Auxiliary, Ponoka Coop, Canada Packers, Ponoka Savings and Credit Union, Stampede Association, Solo Club, Golden Age Dance Club (for a hardwood floor), Wedins’, I.G.A., Alpha Milk, AGT, Alberta Recreation Parks and Wildlife (MLA Halvor Jonson), Morgan Hydrocarbons, Vold, Jones and Vold Auction (a steer to raffle), Odd Fellows, Welsh Society, Eastern Star, Community Friends, Battle River Wheelers, Women of the Moose, and Courtney Berg Industries. Miscellaneous donations from groups and corporations amounted to $52,218, as well as a provincial grant of $184,333.
Some of the wonderful events that were hosted for the cause included: a Slim-A-Thon, in which a group of members lost 196 pounds and raised $7,000, annual bake and produce sales, and the introduction of the zany Bird Dancers (Helen Vogel, Jennie Sutherland, Elsie Wilson, Dorothy Sinclair, and Chrissie Gee), who hosted and won the first spectacular Ponoka International Bird Dance competition. This hilarious community social evening included special guests Klondike Mike and his burro, with everyone joining in on the fun, and being very generous toward the cause.
The official sod turning was held on June 10, 1985 after which local contractor Knud Sommers went to work, and everyone waited patiently, with the official opening of the magnificent building held on April 10, 1986. It is interesting to note that the sign for the new Ponoka Drop- In Centre was designed and donated by Jack Stickel and painted by Orton Dodds. The sign, which still proudly stands in front of the building today, features the Ponoka Black Elk crest, the Alberta Rose, and a key in recognition of the Town and County of Ponoka, who kindly donated the spacious property.
25th anniversary celebration set for April 10
The present 165-member Ponoka Drop-In Centre will proudly host its 25th anniversary with an open house April 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. to which everyone is invited. This busy centre is spearheaded by an enthusiastic 15-member executive under the direction of president Dorothy Houghton, and extend a cordial invitation to all seniors 55 plus from Ponoka and Ponoka County to join in on the enjoyable calendar of year-round activities. Traditional entertainment events at the Drop-In are the lively 1:30 p.m. Saturday music jam sessions, a 1 p.m. gospel sing on the last Sunday of every month, and of course this “happy gang” always has the coffee on.
Yearly membership is only $10 and as well as weekly cards and other games, some added activities now include exercise classes, sewing, weaving and quilting clubs. Membership and hall rental information is available at 403-783-2479.