The West Seneca Senior Center is like a second home to Brownie Michalczak.
The 82-year-old Bethlehem Steel retiree eats lunch, exercises and mingles here – and he’s not alone.
Roughly 2,000 seniors ages 60 and older are members, said Michalczak, president of the West Seneca Senior Center Advisory Board.
“We’re very proud of this place,” Michalczak said during a recent tour of the center, at 4620 Seneca St., about a mile east of Union Road.
The 35-year-old center still has a modern gleam to it. The ground floor includes a sewing room, where members stitch together lap robes for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and other hospitals; a room where seniors learn computer skills; a ceramics room where vases and figurines are turned out for sale; two billiard tables; spaces for puzzle-making, card-playing and Wii games; and a cafeteria and community room.
A sign outside the kitchen reads, “Good Food, Good Friends, Good Times,” and 100 to 150 seniors from across the Southtowns eat lunch here as part of the Erie County senior nutrition program.
A fitness center in the basement includes more than a $16,000 worth of cardio equipment, two flat-screen TVs and a small, cushioned walking track, as well as a group fitness room.
“Lots of folks have knees and shoulders operated on,” Michalczak said. “They can come here and work out. You don’t have to compete with young people on the treadmill, the guys running 100 miles an hour.”
There’s a lift between floors.
“Everybody’s always exercising something all the time,” Michalczak said, whether it’s body, mind or spirit.
That includes tai chi on Monday and Friday mornings, Silver Sneakers Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and gentle fitness classes at various times downstairs.
Herb and Johanna Huber, 90 and 93, respectively, of West Seneca, have been among the regulars – for more than a quarter century. They’ve been married for 67 years. Herb drives them both to the center two or more times a week.
“We’ve been coming here so long that now we’re the old people,” Johanna Huber said with a smile, and also shared her favorite saying: “Health is wealth.”
The couple is among about 60 people who regularly take Bob Van Pelt’s tai chi classes.
“This is not only physical exercise, it’s mental exercise,” said Herb Huber, a retired watchmaker. “We can come out and talk to people and joke around, and it gives people a break in their daily routine. It has made such a difference in our lives.”
The Hubers also are part of the comedy routine. She tells jokes from the raised stage during some of the tai chi classes; he shares them in smaller groups, as he did last week when he said he likes the dances at the center because he and his bride can dance “cheek to cheek, like this,” then bumped backsides with her.
The couple has four children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“Christmas gets very expensive,” Herb said.
Many in the tai chi classes here started taking them in 1989 in a clothing boutique in the Seneca Mall until it closed in the early 1990s. They moved classes to Cazenovia Park after that and to the senior center on Sept. 6, 1994, Van Pelt said.
“All the seniors were walking in the mall, so we figured what the heck, let’s get them into tai chi exercises,” he said.
His class includes karate-based moves that are designed to mimic movements seniors might make around the house.
“Pick up the leaves,” Van Pelt commanded during a class last week as he bent at the knees on the raised stage in the community room. “Brush off the leaves,” he said as he twisted and moved his arms sideways. “Kick him in the butt, kick him in the tail twice,” he said a moment later as he and his students raised their legs slightly and rotated.
Calming new age music played as the seniors went through their motions.
Pauline Kropovitch, who will turn 85 next month, was among early students of the camera-shy Van Pelt. She attends class these days despite a broken left wrist.
“I had open heart surgery 10 years ago,” she said. “Know how long I was in the hospital? Four days. Then they sent me to rehab and said it could be 20 years; I was out in nine. They knew I exercised.”
“I’ve seen people come in here in wheelchairs and start to lift their hands and pick up their legs,” Michalczak said. “It’s really something.”
For more information about the center, visit westseneca.net.
Among the options for weekly fitness classes helpful to those with physical limitations:
Tai Chi: 10 to 11:30 a.m. today and next Saturday, Taoist Tai Chi Society, 968 Kenmore Ave., between Colvin and Starin avenues. See demonstrations, talk to instructors, learn about beginner class times. For more info, visit buffalo.taoist.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 876-7218.
Tai chi: Exercise for seniors, 10 and 10:45 a.m. Monday and Friday, West Seneca Senior Center, 4620 Seneca St., West Seneca, one mile east of Union Road. For more info, call 675-9288. Free for Erie County residents.
Yoga: Slow (foundational) Vinyasa yoga at 6 p.m. Monday, Shakti Yoga, 133 Grant St.; one-hour classes cost $10 each, no registration required. Visit shaktibuffalo.com or email email@example.com for more info.
Tai Chi: 11 a.m. Monday, DeGraff Community Center, 139 Division St., North Tonawanda; wear loose comfortable clothes, beginners welcome. Cost is $5 per class.
Dance Moves: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, St. John’s Grace Church, 51 Colonial Circle. Inspired therapeutic group classes increase your flexibility, tone your muscles, improve your posture and make you feel better. Cost is $8 per class. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 574-5503.
Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance. 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Tosh Collins Senior Center, 35 Cazenovia St.; free. Call 828-1093 or email email@example.com for more info.
Gentle Yoga: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Shakti Yoga, 133 Grant St.; for more info, visit shaktibuffalo.com. $10 per class, ongoing.
Gentle Restorative Yoga: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Body Glyphix Studio, 12377 Big Tree Road, Wales Center; $12 drop-in fee, free for anyone with cancer. For more info, visit bodyglyphix.com.