A lot has changed at the Senior Citizens Club in 60 years but one thing that has remained the same is its strong volunteer base.
The club, like many other Fernie institutions, was built on volunteers and they continue to play an important role in the organization.
On Friday, the club celebrated its 60th anniversary with a lunch and presentation by Fernie & District Historical Society Collections Manager Lindsay Vallance.
She has spent the past several months researching its history, which she said offers fascinating insight into the town pre-1990s.
“Most of the history of the seniors club – I mean aside from the crazy parties – was raising money and raising money in tiny, tiny increments to build very worthwhile things,” said Vallance.
“First they had to raise money in tiny increments to make the seniors club, then they had to raise money to build the Tom Uphill home, then they had to raise money to build this seniors centre.”
Vallance said members did this on top of their commitments to the many other clubs and organizations that existed in Fernie at the time.
“Some people were members of four different fraternal organizations at the same time and they were all connected to each other in a way that it doesn’t really feel like we are in Fernie now,” she said.
“There was just a different ethic almost between the different people.”
Members found unique ways to raise funds for the seniors club and weren’t afraid to poke fun at each other.
Vallance explained the story behind the red pantaloons of 1964.
“Somebody bought a pair of these pantaloons and then people would wear them up and down main street on a dare to raise money for the seniors centre,” she said. “I have never been able to find a photograph of these pantaloons but I assume they were quite something considering they raised like $36.72 or something. Men wore them and women wore them… Underpants-related humour is a big thing.”
Underwear also featured in the satirical skits performed by members in the early days of the club.
These performances are among Mary Menduk’s fondest memories and she recalled one involving a pair of shamrock underwear that were flashed onstage.
The long-time member and Fernie resident first became involved in the club through her dad George Kusnir, who loved to play crib.
Her sister Joanne played the piano while her sister-in-law Robina was in charge of entertainment.
“We had a lot of fun and we did skits in those days,” said Menduk.
“I can remember doing a skit with Catherine Pinotti. When I was a child you’d have to go to City Hall to pay your light bill – they called it the light bill, not the electricity bill – so we pretended that we met on the street with our old fur coats, there’s a picture of it, and we did this skit about how expensive electricity was in those days, and how everything in town was going to pot and we still do that don’t we?” she laughed.
What’s kept Menduk at the seniors club over the years are the people and ever-expanding calendar of events and activities.
The club has evolved from just crib and parties to weekly exercise classes, arts and crafts, games, and special events, such as the Day of Decadence Spa Day and Fall Tea.
It currently has close to 400 members and is always open to more, according to president Jim Booth.
“It means quite a bit to me (the anniversary),” he said. “The people before me, the work they’ve done to make this club the success that it is, kudos to them and thank you to them for what we have today.
“If it wasn’t for those people, we wouldn’t have what we have now. Hopefully, we can carry on where they left off and in the future make it just as vibrant as they made it back then.”
After years of fundraising, with almost every person in Fernie donating to the project, the current building was constructed and opened in 1984 with assistance from government grants and the City of Fernie.
In 2013, the Seniors Citizens Drop-in Centre underwent a major renovation, which included new flooring, furniture and bathrooms, and updates to the kitchen. The project cost $185,000 and was jointly funded by New Horizons ($25,000), Columbia Basin Trust ($25,000), Teck Coal ($50,000) and the BC Government ($85,000).
Booth thanked the many selfless individuals who have donated their time and energy to the club over the past 60 years.
“It takes a lot of volunteers to run an organization and they’re the heart of the organization, so thanks to all those people,” he said.