PR Senior Center likely remaining closed until spring

Members of the Park Rapids Senior Center say they miss gathering to play chess or cards with friends the most. Due to COVID-19, the center will likely remain closed at least until next spring. Enterprise file photo.

Friendly conversation over a game of chess or cards with friends while sharing coffee and goodies at the Park Rapids Senior Center will likely be on hold until next spring in order to safeguard seniors, who are at greater risk for COVID-19.

Senior center president Ruth Ann Helgren said she calls to check in with members periodically. “I let them know I’m thinking of them and to see how they’re doing,” she said. “We have wonderful members, and I worry about them all. They’d love to come back, but I just don’t see how we can. I don’t see how we can open before spring and then we’ll have to wait and see what the governor mandates. It’s a whole different world.”

Seniors miss gatherings

Helgren said seniors miss the opportunity to socialize most of all. Some seniors don’t use email or have a smartphone. Instead, seniors from the club mostly keep in touch by phone calls. Some of the seniors are enjoying summer activities, including golfing, tennis and gardening. Many will be heading south before winter.

Alan Kurth is a vice president of the senior center. He said he has seen a few of the seniors when they come to town to eat out. “Some are feeling a little isolated, but most of them are moving around,” he said. “Some are frustrated because they can’t gather in a group like normal. I don’t know if any of them are playing cards together. They lost a lot of that community feeling they had at the senior center. The older people are, the more they worry about the virus.”

Kurth said some seniors haven’t used computers and don’t have internet at their residence. “They didn’t grow up with computers, and I think before they didn’t need them,” he said. “They had their group of friends and met to go out to eat and had their routines. But now, if they can’t get out as much, they might use computers more.”


iPads available to help seniors connect

Connie Carmichael is the secretary at the senior center as well as the director of Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area. She said a recent technology grant through Older American Act dollars was used to purchase 15 iPads.

“We just started this in the past month,” she said. “I offered them to our clients first, but I have a limited number still available to lend out for people to use for up to a year, including the data service to operate the iPad. They just have to reside in Hubbard County and be 65 years and up.”

Carmichael said the iPads can help people stay connected to family and friends through Facebook, FaceTime, Zoom or other programs. “They can use the iPad to order groceries online, do research, play games. There are lots of social groups, exercise classes and other applications out there. They could use it for doctor e-visits. I also have a coordinator who can come out and show them how to use it if they need help getting started.”

The first step for anyone interested in the use of an iPad is to call Connie at 732-3137 and sign up for the Living at Home Program. She said feedback so far from those who have already signed up has been positive.

“Several have had experience with using a family member’s iPad,” she said. “They just didn’t have one themselves and are so excited to be able to connect with faraway family members they would have only been able to talk with on the phone. It’s like another world opened up because now they can actually see their face. It’s been pretty exciting. There are a lot of virtual events in the community, at the library, with the Center for Lifelong Learning and other programs. There are lots of opportunities out there.”

Carmichael said as the months have gone by, she has seen more seniors returning to more in-person socializing because they miss it so much.

“It’s worse for some of them to live without that social interaction, so they couldn’t wait to get back to church or go to the grocery store,” she said. “They’re venturing out while taking precautions, like wearing masks and extra handwashing.”

Phone friends available

“We talk to seniors every day and a lot of them are really doing ok,” she said. “Their families call and check on them and they call and check on each other. We also have volunteers who call and check on our clients.”


Carmichael said anyone who would like a friendly phone visit should call the Living at Home office.

“We have lots of volunteers that want to be doing something, but because of COVID we can’t mobilize them as far as in-person. They would love to have a regular person to call and check in with every week. So if there’s anybody out there who wants that social connection, let us know.”

Dues and donations needed

In spite of being closed, funds are still needed to support the senior center upkeep.

“We’re asking people to send in their dues, even though we’re not open, because we’ll still have to keep the building going,” Helgren said.

“We understand that it may not seem fair to ask for membership dues and then not be open to gathering at the center,” Carmichael said. “We still have utility and insurance costs associated with the center. Especially since we can't do any kind of fundraisers right now, it is extremely important to keep up with membership dues.”

Checks payable to the PR Senior Center can be mailed to Ruthann Helgren at 318 Eagle Dr. Park Rapids, MN 56470. Dues are $15 per person or $25 per couple. Donations to the senior center are also welcome.


Seniors feel more connected to loved ones when they can see a friendly face on their laptop , phone or iPad. There are a limited number of iPads available to use free of charge for up to a year. through the Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area program.
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Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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