June Raymond was so excited about becoming a senior that she snuck into the Golden Age Society under age. This spry woman was only 53.
“I think they looked at me and wondered what this young chick was up to,” she laughs now, 18 years later. Her husband met the requirement of being 55+ so she was allowed in with him.
“No one would believe it but I was shy and nervous until I started helping out here. I bloomed here. Life begins at 55!”
At age 60 she took up can-can dancing and performed at local establishments during Rendezvous as one of the Golden Girls. Her new young life began at the Golden Age Society.
But Raymond came to this drop-in and recreation centre via a very long route. She was born in England in the middle of World War Two and recalls ration booklets that only went so far. When the coupons were gone they waited until the next month to get more food. Candy was only ever seen on Christmas Day, she says without complaint.
At age 11 her parents brought her to Canada and by 14 she was working at the Swift River Lodge full time.
“I never got to be a teenager. I went straight from grade school to working. I operated the mangle iron on pillow cases at the old Whitehorse Inn. At 16 I got married at the courthouse in Whitehorse.”
Her parents moved to Haines Junction in the 1960s and opened up the Cozy Corner Cafe where cleanliness and friendliness were
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the order of the day. She and her mom cooked while her dad was the waiter. Eventually Raymond and her husband took it over.
It was 1996 when she was invited to a potluck dinner at the Golden Age Society. This first visit was a letdown. There were only half a dozen souls eating in silence. Raymond threw herself in to add warmth.
“The first thing I did was decorate. You see, now we have colours to match the seasons,” she says, pointing to harvest-toned streamers and balloons on the ceiling. “Then I started advertising more for the potlucks and we got local musicians to come play for free during dinner.”
In 2009 she became president and held that position until this spring.
“The secret to building up clientele is friendliness. You have to be friendly to get people to come and join.” Potluck dinners now see 70- 80 people attending, while paid memberships have hit the 170 mark.
It’s no wonder – the centre offers some things you might expect – bingo, foot clinics, teas and craft sales. But Raymond says times are changing and they also have line-dancing, tai chi and yoga classes.
“We need more pool players. We have a fully-equipped pool room!” the 71-year-old exclaims as she gives me the tour. Here you can play shuffle board, floor curling, or just watch TV or make puzzles.
The society gets a few government grants to discount their taxes and utilities but fundraises for the rest. They recently upgraded kitchen appliances to attract more groups to rent the hall. Some bring their own take-out food to serve but at other times Golden Age Society volunteers make the meal.
“We got a new convection oven and I made prime rib for 60 people.” Raymond did that as a volunteer as soon as she retired as president.
She may have missed the fun of being a teenager, but it seems she’s making up for it now. In fact, a lot of seniors seem to be like teenagers when it comes to the annual bus trip to Dawson. Raymond says they play bingo en route and scream with laughter when a bump in the road knocks the game over. Then the biggest laughs come at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling casino where many stay until closing time.
“I love being around people, meeting new people is my favourite thing. I do it because it makes people happy, it makes me happy.”
Raymond wants to meet more newcomers and says they should start with attending their month-end potluck dinners because it’s a guarantee they’ll know someone in the crowd.
“After all, the very best medicine for seniors is socializing.”
Roxanne Livingstone is a freelance writer in Whitehorse.