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Music, memories, friendships lend energy to 'Senior Prom'

Louise Goff of Brandon does line dances during the annual Senior Prom hosted by Hillsborough County Aging Services at the Regent in Brandon.
Louise Goff of Brandon does line dances during the annual Senior Prom hosted by Hillsborough County Aging Services at the Regent in Brandon.
Published Jun. 25, 2017

RIVERVIEW — Mesmerizing music mixed with the mingling of friends to energize and engage a congregation of old souls Thursday (June 22).

The three-and-a-half-hour Senior Prom at the Regent proved to be a jovial affair, compliments of the Hillsborough County Aging Services Department. It brought together close to 450 spirited folks from six senior centers throughout the region, all dressed to the nines and ready to party.

While the women far outnumbered the men and the majority were widows who came stag, by no means did that keep them off the dance floor.

A small number of attendees turned out as couples, each having met and fallen in love at one of the area's centers for elders scattered throughout the community.

The hand-holding and the glow on their faces made them easy to spot as they engaged one another at their tables and/or on the dance floor.

Phil Pace, a 90-year-old World War ll Army veteran, and Verna Brandt, 82, came from the Riverview center. They met after their respective spouses died.

"We started playing cards together and one thing led to another," said Brandt, who added that they now go on trips and cruises together, but maintain their separate homes.

"We see each other every day because I cook for him and he takes me out to eat about twice a week," she added. "He means everything to me. Without him I would be doing nothing."

Pace said he'd be extremely lonely without Brandt in his life.

"We get along so good," Pace said. "She's a great gal and I'm a lucky man."

There's also no denying that 83-year-old Colombia native Fabiola Montealegre, who was widowed a little more than two years ago, feels blessed to have a new man in her life. She met Jorge Zambrana, 94, at the Town N Country Senior Center in northwest Tampa.

"I'm in love," she said, obviously delighted with her new beau.

When the mother of seven children told her priest about the new "boyfriend," in her life, he gave her a confirming response.

"As long as your heart is still alive," she recalled the priest saying, "I say go for it."

Montealegre especially likes that Zambrana is able to live on his own and remains self-sufficient. He drives, buys groceries and prepares his own meals without assistance.

Zambrana, a native of Puerto Rico and the father of two, calls Montealegre morning, noon and night – every day.

"She's a beautiful girl and I think we get along because she's outgoing like I am," he said. "She says she feels like she's 16 all over again."

For many of the party goers, including Tom Wong, 80, from the Brandon Senior Center and 50-year-old Patricia Roth from the Wimauma Senior Center, it was their first-ever prom.

What made it even more special was that their names were randomly drawn from a hat to serve as king and queen of the event. They were among the multiple nominees selected by their peers from throughout the county's senior centers.

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"It means a lot to be the queen, especially because I never went to prom in high school," said Roth, who was escorted by her longtime good friend Kenny Levins, also a Wimauma center attendee.

Mabel Macaluso, 91, from the Lutz Senior Center, said she awakened at 4 a.m. in anticipation of the day ahead. Upon her arrival in a dressy-but-simply-stated black ensemble, she chose a seat next to the dance floor.

But when Macaluso's daughter, Carol Bostic, suggested she get involved in activities at the nearby Lutz center following the death of the man she had been married to for 72 years, Macaluso initially wanted no part of it.

"At first I thought it was about establishing a dating relationship and I said, 'No, I'm not going,'" said Macaluso, a London native who totally devoted her adult life to being a good wife and mother.

"She did everything for daddy," Bostic said.

Bostic convinced her the socialization and activity-filled aspects of the program might help her better cope with her husband's loss, so she gave it a one-day try.

It's been a Monday through Friday ritual ever since.

She and a group of her gal pals at the center knit, crochet and sew items they generally give to people in need. Together they donated 47 knitted caps to preemie babies born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Macaluso said she also shares in oodles of laughter in lieu of in-depth conversations with some of her new-found friends because they only speak Spanish, a language she never learned.

"The whole experience has truly breathed new life into her," Bostic said. "She loves it and she's got more of a social life than my husband and I do."

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

BY JOYCE MCKENZIE

Times Correspondent

RIVERVIEW — Mesmerizing music mixed with the mingling of friends to energize and engage a congregaton of old souls Thursday (June 22).

The three-and-a-half-hour Senior Prom at the Regent proved to be a jovial affair, compliments of the Hillsborough County Aging Services Department. It brought together close to 450 spirited folks from six senior centers throughout the region, all dressed to the nines and ready to party.

While the women far outnumbered the men and the majority were widows who came stag, by no means did that keep them off the dance floor.

A small number of attendees turned out as couples, each having met and fallen in love at one of the area's centers for elders scattered throughout the community.

The hand-holding and theglow on their faces made them easy to spot as they engaged one another at their tables and/or on the dance floor.

Phil Pace, a 90-year-old World War ll Army veteran, and Verna Brandt, 82, came from the Riverview center. They met after their respective spouses died.

"We started playing cards together and one thing led to another," said Brandt, who added that they now go on trips and cruises together, but maintain their separate homes.

"We see each other every day because I cook for him and he takes me out to eat about twice a week," she added. "He means everything to me. Without him I would be doing nothing."

Pace said he'd be extremely lonely without Brandt in his life.

"We get along so good," Pace said. "She's a great gal and I'm a lucky man."

There's also no denying that 83-year-old Colombia native Fabiola Montealegre, who was widowed a little more than two years ago, feels blessed to have a new man in her life. She met Jorge Zambrana, 94, at the Town N Country Senior Center in northwest Tampa.

"I'm in love," she said, obviously delighted with her new beau.

When the mother of seven children told her priest about the new "boyfriend," in her life, he gave her a confirming response.

"As long as your heart is still alive," she recalled the priest saying, "I say go for it."

Montealegre especially likes that Zambrana is able to live on his own and remains self-sufficient. He drives, buys groceries and prepares his own meals without assistance.

Zambrana, a native of Puerto Rico and the father of two, calls Montealegre morning, noon and night – every day.

"She's a beautiful girl and I think we get along because she's outgoing like I am," he said. "She says she feels like she's 16 all over again."

For many of the party goers, including Tom Wong, 80, from the Brandon Senior Center and 50-year-old Patricia Roth from the Wimauma Senior Center, it was their first-ever prom.

What made it even more special was that their names were randomly drawn from a hat to serve as king and queen of the event. They were among the multiple nominees selected by their peers from throughout the county's senior centers.

"It means a lot to be the queen, especially because I never went to prom in high school," said Roth, who was escorted by her longtime good friend Kenny Levins, also a Wimauma center attendee.

Mabel Macaluso, 91, from the Lutz Senior Center, said she awakened at 4 a.m. in anticipation of the day ahead. Upon her arrival in a dressy-but-simply-stated black ensemble, she chose a seat next to the dance floor.

But when Macaluso's daughter, Carol Bostic, suggested she get involved in activities at the nearby Lutz center following the death of the man she had been married to for 72 years, Macaluso initially wanted no part of it.

"At first I thought it was about establishing a dating relationship and I said, 'No, I'm not going,'" said Macaluso, a London native who totally devoted her adult life to being a good wife and mother.

"She did everything for daddy," Bostic said.

Bostic convinced her the socialization and activity-filled aspects of the program might help her better cope with her husband's loss, so she gave it a one-day try.

It's been a Monday through Friday ritual ever since.

She and a group of her gal pals at the center knit, crochet and sew items they generally give to people in need. Together they donated 47 knitted caps to preemie babies born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Macaluso said she also shares in oodles of laughter in lieu of in-depth conversations with some of her new-found friends because they only speak Spanish, a language she never learned.

"The whole experience has truly breathed new life into her," Bostic said. "She loves it and she's got more of a social life than my husband and I do."

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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