Lollie Raulerson center caters to the ‘Young at Heart’

OKEECHOBEE — The “Lottie Raulerson Senior Center” is now officially known as the “Young at Heart Center of Okeechobee.” The center has been in existence since 1981, thanks in large part to the efforts of the late Lottie Raulerson, who saw a need for a place for seniors to gather in Okeechobee, and worked to make that dream a reality.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
County Board Chairman Terry Burroughs and Program Manager Tom Leach hold a plaque dedicating the center to Lottie Raulerson.

Visitors to the center enjoy spending time with others who have similar interests. They are treated to entertainment such as bluegrass musi and offered the opportunity to learn new skills, participate in challenging activities and enjoy nutritious meals.

According to Program Manager Tom Leach, on Jan. 1, with approval of the Okeechobee Board of County Commissioners, the name was officially changed, because the generations who have been served by the center up to this point, The Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation, were content with the tag “senior citizen,” but the next generation currently retiring in big numbers, the Baby Boomers, do not think of themselves as seniors.

“Baby Boomers are hard working like their parents,” he said, “but they are also hard playing!” Because they don’t think of themselves as seniors, they do not want to go to a senior center, he explained.

A contest was conducted to choose the name, and Mr. Leach told them they could not suggest anything with he words old, old fart or crotchety old fart included. He said that surprisingly, three attendees submitted the same suggestion, “Young at Heart,” independently! They all felt it captured the essence of what they were trying to accomplish at the center.

They will be adding new programming in the afternoon targeted more toward this demographic, although the clients who were already attending in the mornings are more than welcome to stay, he said. “We want to continue to meet their needs as well. We aren’t changing any of the programming for the morning block of the day. They will still be able to enjoy the things they are used to.”

Although the name will no longer be the Lottie Raulerson Senior Center, the center will be dedicated to Lottie Raulerson.

“I wish I would have met Miss Raulerson,” said Mr. Leach. “I think I would have liked her. I don’t want to lose the legacy of what she started here. I don’t want to lose sight of what she accomplished here.” A big sign on the fence at the entrance to the center reads, “Young at Heart Center of Okeechobee dedicated to Lottie Raulerson.” Inside the center is a plaque with Mrs. Raulerson’s picture on it, and it says the same thing, “Young at Heart Center dedicated to Lottie Raulerson.” Her family was invited to the grand reopening ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 14, but were unable to attend.

One of the men who attends the center, Fred Hofmann, spoke about it. He has been coming for about a year. He said he just wandered in one day, and kept coming back. He spent his life traveling the world, and has been everywhere but Antarctica. He is not sorry he missed that, either, he said. In those travels, he saw people in poverty that most people would not believe. He saw seniors die on the streets and people just walk around them. ‘You can’t even imagine how much I appreciate this building right here,” he said.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
The Lottie Raulerson Senior Center has been rebranded “The Young at Heart Center of Okeechobee” dedicated to Lottie Raulerson.

Carol Yates, another attendee, has been going to the center for many years. She began going with her mother, and volunteers her time doing such things as teaching line dancing and tai Chi. “I think that being a part of something does keep you young at heart,” she said. “I think everybody in Okeechobee should know about this place.”

Bob Keebler also enjoys spending time at the center. He is especially fond of the biscuits and gravy, and now that the kids are grown and have taken the grandkids away with them, he finds the fellowship at the center just what he needed. When he can’t be there, he misses it. “It’s downright disappointing,” he said. ‘You wouldn’t believe some of the things we learn around here. Of course being seniors, we mostly forget it.”

The rebranding celebration concluded with refreshments and conversation.

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