TOWNSEND — Some jobs become a life’s work.
“It’s sad to leave,” said Chris Clish, director of the Council on Aging, who will retire at the end of July. “The closer I get to it, the more I think, oh my goodness, it’s been such a part of my life.”
“I’ve really appreciated working with everyone,” she said.
She credits the COA board and all the volunteers with making the senior center so successful. “Without the volunteers, we couldn’t have half the programs we have,” she said.
Volunteers lead programs and raise money. The Friends of the Townsend Seniors make purchases for the center and sponsor meals for seniors. Before it dissolved, the Golden Age Club also made donations for many years.
Clish started work as the COA coordinator in 1982, working two mornings a week at Memorial Hall. Her duties included taking lunch reservations for the meal program at Spaulding Memorial School and making referrals for services. Once a month, she distributed the government surplus food.
Printing the newsletter on the mimeograph machine was a special challenge. “That was the day I didn’t wear good clothes,” Clish said.
Things changed over the years and she grew with the job.
Town Hall finally got a copier. The COA opened a senior center in space at 222 Main St. that provided a place for seniors to attend programs. Linda Salisbury came on board as program coordinator. Card games, crafts and exercise classes drew ever more attendees.
In the late 1980s, Clish started the Safe Seniors program and made a list of 20 or 30 seniors who lived alone or were geographically isolated. In the event of severe weather, she contacted them to see if they were all right.
Now, the senior center supplies this information to the Townsend Emergency Management Agency. During the 2008 ice storm, when a shelter opened at the Hawthorne Brook Middle School, Clish, a member of TEMA, started contacting everyone on the list.
Two people she reached, one from the harbor and another from West Townsend, needed help getting to safety.
In 1990, Clish was named director of the COA.
The one-room center on Main Street got busier. Occasionally, when a nurse came to do well-adult health checks, she would need to camp out in a quieter corner because another activity was taking place at the same time.
When the senior center moved to the new building on Dudley Road in 2009, things really began to jump. With an arts and crafts room, classrooms and access to the meeting hall, many activities now happen simultaneously.
The number of seniors in town, those 60 and older, grows by about 50 or 60 every year. Currently there are 1,900 Townsend residents eligible for programming at the senior center.
The job requires a variety of skills, Clish said. Most important are patience and compassion, even when multi-tasking and interruptions are the rule of the day. She might be working on the budget or the lunch program when someone stops in her office for help, right by the front door.
Clish will miss working with Salisbury, who is like a sister to her. She will not miss all the paperwork or the deadlines, though.
Once she is retired, she is looking forward to attending some of the classes.
“Maybe meditation,” she said, especially if there are no worries about answering a ringing phone.
A sold-out luncheon celebrating Clish’s more than 30 years of service will be held at the senior center on July 31.