2017-10-12 / News

50 Plus Club celebrates half century mark with dance

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Stephanie Ruel, Biddeford 50 Plus Club president, helped establish Oct. 21 as Biddeford Senior Citizen Day. The dedication was made Tuesday, Sept. 5 by the Biddeford city council and mayor. Ruel, left, and club secretary Debbie Godbout both volunteer their time in order to keep club members active and happy. (Grant McPherson photo) Stephanie Ruel, Biddeford 50 Plus Club president, helped establish Oct. 21 as Biddeford Senior Citizen Day. The dedication was made Tuesday, Sept. 5 by the Biddeford city council and mayor. Ruel, left, and club secretary Debbie Godbout both volunteer their time in order to keep club members active and happy. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – For 50 years, seniors in and around Biddeford have had a place to congregate thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers and city staff. In honor of this, the Biddeford 50 Plus Club will host a 50th anniversary Oldies Dance 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Rochambeau Club, 329 South St. in Biddeford. Tickets are $10 and available at the club’s office at the Ross Center in the J. Richard Martin Community Center. The dance is open to anyone, club members and nonmembers alike, who are 21 and older.

Seniors in Biddeford started the club when they took turns hosting social gathering at each other’s homes. The first official gathering was in November 1967 and only coffee was served. Stephanie Ruel, president of the Biddeford 50 Plus Club, said the organization grew from there.


From left, Debbie Droggitis, Linda Lapierre, Mike Pendergrass and Debbie Godbout organize the Biddeford 50 Plus Club’s quarterly newsletter at the Ross Center in the J. Richard Martin Community Center. The club will hold a 50th Anniversary Oldies Dance 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Rochambeau Club in Biddeford. (Grant McPherson photo) From left, Debbie Droggitis, Linda Lapierre, Mike Pendergrass and Debbie Godbout organize the Biddeford 50 Plus Club’s quarterly newsletter at the Ross Center in the J. Richard Martin Community Center. The club will hold a 50th Anniversary Oldies Dance 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Rochambeau Club in Biddeford. (Grant McPherson photo) “It was basically one afternoon a week,” she said. “Now it has evolved into Monday through Friday with a full calendar of events for people to take part in.”

Debbie Godbout, the club’s secretary, said bingo every Wednesday can draw as many as 75 to 100 people. The club has a total of about 700 members from Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Kennebunk, Dayton, Arundel and other towns. The club’s weekly activities range from mahjong and cribbage to knitting and pickle ball. About 100 people attend the monthly luncheons as well. The club is supported by 40 volunteers, including Ruel and Godbout.

Mystery trips are the club’s latest addition to its roster of activities. Members have no knowledge of the destination other than that they will be served a meal and provided with entertainment. Oftentimes members don’t have their own form of transportation and rely on the club for travel to other areas.

“We transport them for an opportunity to go as a group and not have to drive on their own. We try to go to places off the beaten path,” said Ross Center Director Debbie Droggitis.

Droggitis has worked as the center’s president for three years and sees a common theme for seniors joining the club.

“We see it all the time. They come in and want to be social. They really do just want companionship,” she said.

The club has purchased a 36-passenger coach bus to help facilitate their off-site trips. The bus cost $100,000, which the club split with the city of Biddeford. The club spent the past seven years volunteering to raise funds, through events such as bingo, raffles and selling candy bars and cookbooks. The city will register, insure and maintain the bus through the recreation department budget. The city also provides the club space within the J. Richard Martin Community Center.

Finding bus drivers has been a challenge, Droggitis said, as it has been for many school departments around the country. About 50 school bus job openings were expected in Maine this year. Godbout decided to get a school bus permit for this reason and will take her test soon.

“I can’t just sit back and watch. I have to jump into the middle,” she said. “I was backing up with confidence, but I need a few more years practice.”

To coincide with the 50th anniversary dance, on Tuesday, Sept. 5, the mayor and city council dedicated Oct. 21, 2017 as Biddeford Senior Citizen Day. Ruel drafted the proposal and brought it before the city clerk.

“Over the years the 50 Plus Club has done so much keeping our seniors active,” she said.

Keeping seniors active is integral to the mission of the 50 Plus Club. Droggitis said the sight of couples waltzing at the first luncheon she attended brought tears to her eyes.

“I thought it was so sweet,” she said. “I realized any place they can dance to their music, they will.”

Droggitis wants to make sure even the seniors who have difficulty travelling on the bus have activities available for them at the Ross Center.

“All of a sudden someone can’t climb the steps of the bus, they get embarrassed,” she said. “They think they’re holding everybody up by taking longer. I try to say to them, ‘Look, it’s going to happen to everybody.’ I want to do more social dances right here for those that can’t go with us on the bus. Let’s keep them going a few more years right here. I want to make sure they’re happy members.”

She hopes to accommodate members who want new programs as well.

“If members request something we can do as an activity we try to make it happen,” she said. “They can come to see us any time with ideas, thoughts or other points. It takes a little while. It has to be planned out and put on the calendar. But we can usually get it done for them.”

For more information, call 282-5005 or visitbiddefordrec.com

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