By Dedra Cordle
When John Divine heard that the E.L. Evans Senior Center was closing last year to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus, multiple emotions ran through his head.
His initial response was one of disappointment though he understood the rationale.
“My wife and I have been coming here for more than four years to exercise and do tai chi,” he said. “It is hard to get motivated to work out everyday and having those classes available really kept us on track.”
The second response he had was one of sadness because he knew how much this center meant to its members.
“For a lot of the older folks, this place is their only interaction with others,” he said. “And knowing that it was being taken away from them was really awful.”
Though he had a strong support group around him, he missed talking to the friends he made throughout his time at the center. So, when he heard that some of the members of the Evans Center were going to start a walking club shortly after the closure came, he and his wife, Nancy knew they had to sign up.
“It provided us with our motivation,” he said. “It kept us moving.”
On Mondays and Wednesdays, the small group of walking enthusiasts met up at the Evans Center for walks around Windsor Park and the surrounding neighborhood if they felt like venturing further away. It was not sanctioned by the city or the Evans Center though they were aware of their presence.
“We knew what they were up to,” said director Tammy Jefferson.
Through rain and shine and snow and smog, they walked the park and the streets. They exercised, had conversations, checked in with each other, scavenged the curbside goods – “people in Grove City have really been cleaning out their homes during the pandemic,” said Nancy – and even made enemies of a motorist who does not like to share the road.
“She loves to show us her fingers,” said Linda Corbett. “I don’t know why.”
Recently, however, their unofficial walking club became an officially sanctioned event.
“I had been asking (the city) for this for a long time, and with health orders lifting they gave us the go-ahead,” said Jefferson.
In late May, the Evans Senior Center launched its first official outdoor event since the pandemic shuttered recreational activities for its members in 2020.
While most of the members are comprised of those who have created their own club – “We call ourselves “Kelly’s Peeps in honor of our exercise leader Kelly Ritter,” said Divine – there were some new faces in the crowd.
Donna Miller, a recent retiree, said she always looked forward to becoming a member of the Evans Center. Since it has been closed, she has been volunteering at the meal drive-thru events sponsored by LifeCare Alliance but wanted to form a greater connection with those she will see once it opens.
Officially, the Evans Center Walking Club will meet every Monday at 9 a.m. at the Windsor Park entrance. Unofficially, Kelly’s Peeps will also meet at this location on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. and at Gantz Park on Fridays at 9:30 a.m.
Divine said he encourages anyone who wants to get outside, work on their cardio, and experience a “little camaraderie” to come out and join.