In 1996, Jean Martin’s retired husband, Michael H. Martin, was injured in a car accident, causing a rapid decline in the health of a man who had been a vital, spirited, outdoor-loving and gregarious companion. Confined to the couple’s house in rural Chattaroy, Michael Martin was lonely and dispirited.
Most people the couple knew still were working. No network of support was readily available.
Watching her husband suffer, Jean Martin wanted to do something – anything – to comfort him. And she suspected a lot of other people probably were suffering loneliness. What if she could bring them together?
So, the Elk-Chattaroy Social Seniors was born. Eleven years later, the group still meets once a month, with its mission never deviating from the original intent.
“My friend April Ogden came over one day for coffee. And as we were visiting, we realized there must be a lot of lonely seniors out there. We started the idea of a group,” said Jean Martin. “Our friends Dorine McBride and Barbara Evanson joined us in the planning. And we started the club.
“The club really was started in honor of Michael and all the lonely seniors out there,” Jean Martin said.
To announce the club’s formation, the organizers placed announcements in The Spokesman-Review, the Elk Sentinel and Deer Park Gazette.
The group’s attendance has ranged from 20 to 45 over the years.
“Our purpose for this club is, first and foremost, fellowship. We enjoy each other’s company,” Jean Martin said.
She said she hopes the get-togethers bring some comfort and companionship to otherwise housebound senior citizens. The club gives them a purpose to go out and meet other people.
“Our next purpose is to try to take care of each other,” Jean Martin said.
To do that, the club has various program topics. The board will arrange speakers to talk to the group on topics ranging from diet to exercise to general health concerns.
Notebooks and pencils are distributed to the group in the hope that members will write their life stories, not just to leave a legacy for the next generations but also to exercise their minds.
“But we never forget to have fun,” according to Jean Martin.
The group has its own musicians. Jack Saunders sometimes plays violin, and Eunice Harrison plays accordion and leads the group in rousing singalongs. Dorine McBride plays mandolin, reads the joke of the month and gives out door prizes, usually practical items for seniors citizens donated by Yoke’s.
Someone once gave a talk on the early history of the Elk-Chattaroy area.
“Anything that would encourage the seniors to laugh, to learn or to simply get them out of the house,” Jean Martin said of the club’s mission.
The group meets the second Wednesday of each month, with a loosely organized potluck lunch.
There is no club fee. A basket is placed by the door for voluntary donations. When enough money eventually is collected, the group will go out to breakfast or lunch together.
Chattaroy Community Church has been supportive of the group from the beginning. It lets the club use its basement meeting room and makes a pot of steaming coffee for them before their meetings. Sometimes, the church helps set up and clean up as well.
“I go to see all my friends and neighbors. We are all up in our 70s and 80s. We look forward to it and have enjoyed it for years,” said Lois Kummer, 88.
Ruth Aronson, who will turn 90 this year, said, “I live by myself. And this beats looking at four walls. I look forward to it.”
“The dearest people on earth live here,” said Jean Martin. “I admire these people’s ability to appreciate and enjoy life despite all obstacles. I admire their tenacity.”
Out of a yearning to reach out was born Elk-Chattaroy Social Seniors. Over the years, the club has fulfilled an acute emotional need.
Michael H. Martin died in 2003. But his legacy lives on through his wife’s belief, the tireless work of the club’s board and the many laughs and good times shared by members of the group.
“It is a good thing,” said Jean Martin.