The band played “Blue Christmas” as couples swayed across the dance floor on Friday morning, but no one at Day Out for the Blind seemed a bit blue.
Members and volunteers got their picture taken with Santa and enjoyed coffee and conversation between dances.
“I love the people and I love dancing,” club president Jan Hussey said.
Since 1951, Day Out for the Blind has provided social interaction, day trips and lots of dancing for the visually impaired.
Local attorney Lyle von Erichsen, blind following a bout of scarlet fever at age 7, established the Spokane Foundation for the Blind in 1940.
Day Out for the Blind is an outgrowth of that organization.
Generously endowed, the social club owns its meeting hall in north Spokane, as well as the vans used to transport members to and from activities.
“We used to own a cabin at Newman Lake,” longtime member Mary Lou Groom said. “There was swimming and walking paths and even a sign on the road that said ‘Blind Crossing.’ ”
The property was sold in 1992, but that didn’t mean an end to lake visits.
“Last summer we had a picnic at Clear Lake and we also did a Lake Coeur d’Alene cruise,” Hussey said.
But the weekly Friday dances are the heartbeat of the club. Every Friday, volunteer musicians play for the group. Lunch is served every other Friday and regular bingo games provide additional fun.
“I’m a dancer and I’ve got a good partner,” Groom said
“But Jan likes to steal him for a polka, so I share.”
There are no membership fees and all of the services and activities are free of charge.
“Our volunteer drivers pick you up at your door and walk you to the van,” Hussey said.
None of the fun would happen without the dedicated commitment of sighted volunteers.
Belia Madrigal is one of them. Twenty years ago, her husband became a van driver for the group.
“I went with him,” she said.
When he died five years ago, she continued to help.
“Maybe someday I’ll be blind and I would want the same attention and care,” she said.
On Fridays, Day Out for the Blind tries to have at least one sighted person per visually impaired member. The volunteers serve coffee or lunch, walk members to the restroom and of course, take turns on the dance floor. Their help provides a feeling of safety for members.
The dancing inspired Wanda Vick, 96, to volunteer. She lives near Hussey and takes her shopping.
“One day, Jan said, ‘It’s Friday. I’m going dancing with the blind,’ ” Vick said. “I fairly drooled and volunteered as soon as there was an opening. I get my pleasure out of helping people and I’m happy to be with this group.”
Member Linda McVey took a brief break from dancing.
“This is my first time back in two years because of COVID,” she said. “I’ve missed it. I love being able to socialize and dance. I’m trying to get the band to play ‘Jingle Bell Rock.’”
Day Out for the Blind has 40 members and welcomes more.
“We lost a lot during COVID,” Hussey said.
Prospective members must provide confirmation from a physician that they are blind or significantly visually impaired.
Volunteers are also needed. A vote is held after an application is submitted.
Bonnie Freeman has been volunteering for several years.
“I’m a widow and my kids are grown,” she said. “I love being of service and helping.
“The people here have become my family.”