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Local seniors find special place to belong

Profile image for By Audra Stamp / For the Denton Record-Chronicle
By Audra Stamp / For the Denton Record-Chronicle

Betty Kimble sits at a wooden table, her light gray hair framing her face as she surveys her possible moves against two other women.

“I’m going to get me a nickel,” says Kimble, a smile crossing her face as she places the domino down.

Alma Clark patiently waits her turn, reading everyone’s dominos through her thick, black-rimmed glasses.

“I sure told you she had the fives,” Clark says.

“Oh, you sure did,” Juanita Hannah says. “Ms. Betty, you sure did cut me off there, I can’t do anything now.”

Hannah taps her nails, her colorful ring collection on display across her fingers. She reaches over, straightening the last-placed domino before setting down her own piece.

Kimble, down to her last piece, calls “Domino!” and counts up her points, taking the win, while humming a tune and resetting the table for another game.

These three women have been coming to the American Legion Senior Center and playing dominos ever since it opened its new facilities in the heart of Southeast Denton 12 years ago. The game reminds them of their childhoods, when their fathers taught them how to play.

Kimble is the director of the center, which serves those in the community, age 55 and older, who are capable of living independently. The center acts as therapy to help keep their minds nimble, their bodies in shape and their spirits high.

“The purpose of the center is to give [seniors] a place to go,” she says. “They can play games, get a hot lunch and it just gives them something to do and gets them out of the house.”

Kimble has a long history with the center, even before it was dedicated to seniors. In 1957, Commander Noble Holland of American Legion Post 840, along with other Denton veterans, built the post to serve as a center for the neighboring community.

Kimble, who has lived on the same street as the center her whole life, remembers going there as a child. Kids could get popsicles there on a hot summer day.

“We had dances and weddings,” says Kimble, sitting in her office at the center on Lakey Drive. “[Holland] kept the floors so clean, it was just so shiny.”

But as the veterans grew older, the building went to waste. It became a place for teenagers to practice their spray-painting skills. But Kimble and other neighborhood women refused to let the building close.

Seniors needed a new center, because, at the time, they were outgrowing their one room at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

So Kimble and the others convinced the Denton City Council to purchase the building for the city, to renovate it and allow it to open as a new center for seniors.

Kimble, who had been working at the MLK Center, became its new director when the American Legion Senior Center opened in 2000.

“It just fell into place,” says Kimble, smiling, her eyes lighting up. “I like to work with people and now I get paid for what I love to do.”

What she does begins early each morning when she walks the few blocks from her home to the center, where three or four regulars are already waiting for her to open the doors. As the morning crowd flows in — usually from 20 to 40 seniors — she welcomes everyone.

When Kimble’s domino-playing friend, Juanita Hannah, first started coming to the center, she was depressed. But that quickly changed.

“They were so friendly and welcoming, it was like I was born and raised here,” Hannah says. “Now I come every day for the relaxation and friendship, and I try to help Ms. Betty out in any way I can.”

Kimble is so busy running the center she often misses lunch.

There is exercise equipment to check, bank deposits to make, groceries to buy, lunch to be made, paperwork to be done and dominos to be played.

She schedules monthly guest speakers and makes certain a nurse comes around to check the seniors’ blood pressure and sugar levels, and to administer shots during flu season.

But mostly she’s there for the seniors — someone who will listen as they talk about their lives.

After Dorothy Minter’s husband died, the center became her escape and the women there helped her grieve the loss.

“There were lots of friends at the center to help,” Minter said. “Now I have to make myself not go every day so I can get stuff done around the house.”

Bernard Smith has only been coming to the center for slightly more than a year.

He remembers that Kimble was the first person who spoke with him.

“Everyone was so welcoming and inviting,” he said. Now he interacts with other seniors, conversing about his community and his generation.

Kimble not only caters to seniors at the center, she also helps the neighborhood kids. Each day as they get off the school bus, they run to the side door of the center where Kimble stands ready to give out the leftover donations from generous Denton businesses and individuals.

“I give to whoever is in need,” she says. “The more I have, the more I give.”

In this place where Ms. and Mr. are used more out of civility than age and where the food is always in abundance, Kimble makes it her priority to keep the center a vibrant community where seniors can enjoy themselves — and where she can enjoy a good game of dominos.