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Panel serves seniors for 25 years

For 25 years, members of the city of St. Petersburg Commission on Aging have educated the community about the concerns of older residents and lobbied for programs on their behalf.

Tuesday the commission celebrated its silver anniversary with a luncheon, green and silver balloons, high-kicking grandmothers, big band music and recognition of those who have made outstanding contributions during the past quarter century.

Recipients of the Silver Super Senior awards were presented with silver platters by Mayor David Fischer.

Established in 1972, the 15-member commission appointed by the mayor and City Council is an advisory board to the city's Office on Aging.

Without the commission, said Gerald J. Buchert, director of the Office on Aging for 21 years, "We would just be guessing at what we thought the services should be for the city's senior citizens."

Members also serve as a much-needed extension of the department's staff, he said.

"There are times when I can't go to a meeting and they go," he said.

Even at its inception, he added, the commission began addressing concerns of the city's elderly.

"Right after they were first appointed," Buchert said, "they established the need for a multipurpose senior center, and then they lobbied to the City Council and got it funded."

That facility is the well-used Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N, which provides mental health services, congregate dining, meals on wheels, classes and entertainment.

"They were the advocates of the Sunshine Center and everything after that," the mayor said Tuesday afternoon.

In years since the center opened in 1977, the commission has continued to play an important role in the welfare of the city's elderly.

It has held community forums for senior citizens to voice their needs and has closely followed and influenced legislative matters affecting them. The commission has presented educational forums on topics including crime awareness and fraud prevention. Members have participated in local forums with the State Department of Elder Affairs and in a panel discussion on Medicare and Medicaid during Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to St. Petersburg in 1996.

William T. Clark, a retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force, became the commission's chairman last year.

In 1996, caregiving was a major focus of the group. "We contacted a lot of churches around town and held workshops on caregiving so that people could recognize the need and the problem," he said.

It also was hoped that those attending would assist those in their churches and neighborhoods by providing caregiving or respite care for caregivers.

"This year, we've been involved in trying to develop respite care at the Sunshine Center," Clark said.

The commission also wants to address a problem many seniors face when shopping for basic needs. Although some may be able to take a bus or walk to stores, many cannot carry their groceries home. Clark said a service is needed.

"They are not strong enough," he said. "This is something we would like to explore and provide for the older people."

The commission, which meets once a month, is divided into several subcommittees. Sharon Milbourn, a gerontologist and director of aging services for Palms of Pasadena Hospital, heads the public education committee.

"We try to learn as much as we can that is being offered for our seniors," she said. "We also try to take on a project every year in a topic that is important to seniors."

"This year, we decided to develop a directory of non-profit services to our seniors in our community," she added.

"It is a one-page flier, and we mail it out to anyone in the community who is interested. We have volunteers who update it every month."

Another task of the commission is to select the annual Senior Hall of Fame winners. Recognized for community service and leadership, about 150 seniors have been honored in the past 25 years. Of those, 10 were presented with the Silver Super Senior Awards during Tuesday's event.


AILEEN CHAPMAN: co-founded the Pinellas Youth Symphony; served as president and treasurer of the South Pinellas Retired Educators Association and as an instructor with AARP's 55 ALIVE program.

FLORENCE DESCH: a registered nurse; founder and first president of Suncoast Practitioners Infection Control in Pinellas County; helped manage Disaster Health Services Shelters.

THELMA FOOTMAN: current member of the Commission on Aging; volunteers at Ronald McDonald House, All Children's Hospital and the Community Camping Council.

PAT HOWELLS: volunteers at St. Anthony's Hospital, Florida Suncoast Opera Guild, Florida Orchestra Guild and other clubs and associations.

CORKEY JAY: Founder and president of the Community Camping Council Inc., also spent 60 years as a volunteer for the Girl Scouts; for 29 years has recruited thousands of volunteers to work at the Christmas Toy Shop.

MINNIE JOHNSON: has spent 60 years as a volunteer tutoring children, teenagers and senior citizens; has distributed food at a local food pantry and helped senior citizens.

EDNA McCALL: dresses as a clown in the Festival of States parades and visits All Children's Hospital, nursing homes and other facilities in costume; also involved with the Interlock Club and the American Heart Association.

MARJORIE SCHUCK: SPCA and the Jungle Terrace Property Owners Association have benefited from her work; one of the first two female members to be elected to the executive board of the Committee of 100 in Pinellas County; one of three residents who founded the first local arts council, now the Pinellas County Arts Council.

EMANUEL STEWART: volunteer with the American Cancer Society; has traveled the state recruiting African Americans to work in cancer prevention; also has tutored African-American students at Eckerd College; volunteered with various organizations.

WILLIAM ZACHER: served on the Mayor's Advisory Council and Florida chairman for the Conference on Inner City Ministries in Minneapolis.; helped establish the Shiloh Day Care Center for children of mothers trying to get off welfare.