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BU students dance at senior center

Nov. 16, 2004


The dance floor was colored red, white and blue as senior citizens and Baylor social work students, dressed in patriotic attire, and danced the night away at the Sul Ross Senior Center's Veterans Day Hoedown.

"I'm 90 years old and having a great time," Sally Sullivan said while taking a break from dancing. "Just make sure when y'all get to be 90 years old that you go out and have a good time -- it'll keep you young."

Steven Heldenbrand | Lariat staff
Baylor social work students make their annual visit to the Sul Ross Senior Center. This year the center was honoring Veterans Day with a hoedown . This was a time for generations to join together and learn from one another.
The festive Thursday evening was a time for generations to join together in dancing, laughter and the teaching of life-long lessons.

"We thought it'd be nice to do something intergenerational, while bringing younger adults and older adults together in a social context," Cindy Sutter-Tkel, associate director of field education and a School of Social Work faculty member, said.

Sutter-Tkel said she felt students would benefit from spending a few hours with a different generation.

"There can be real benefits for our students to see the strengths of older adults in their setting and to see that they're strong and they're participating in a community, and they're not in a nursing home, and they're not sitting in a wheelchair," Sutter-Tkel said.

This was the second dance in which the social work group and Sul Ross participated.

The undergraduates of the social work group said they decided to return this year because most people seemed to enjoy last year's dance.

"I think our kids are having fun out on the dance floor tonight," Sutter-Tkel said. "I know last year the kids talked of it as the highlight of the year."

Thursday's dance was nothing new to the senior citizens -- it only happened to fall on Veterans Day.

Sul Ross holds country dances, with music provided by John Moore and the All Stars Band, every Tuesday and Thursday night.

Lenuel and Louise Bailey have been coming to the dances since 1984.

"We've been coming for 20 years, and we haven't miss very many nights," Louise said.

"I wouldn't come to the dances if I didn't enjoy them," her husband added.

For some dance enthusiasts, the evenings are helpful in getting exercise and socializing with friends. Many members have found lasting friendships within the group that meets each week.

Henry and Gean Bartoli, married 61 years, were the cashiers at the beginning of the evening. The two couldn't wait for the shift to be over so they could head out to the dance floor.

"It's our whole social life and it's great exercise," Gean said. "We moved here from San Antonio five years ago and this is where we met all of our friends -- everybody here's just very, very friendly."

Other members have grown such close friendships that they consider other members a part of their family.

Ken and Lillie Sandel, married for almost 50 years, have come to Sul Ross for about nine years. Ken serves as the president of the Thursday night Sul Ross dance club and Lillie is a board member.

"The people are just wonderful here, and after a while you grow attached to them, Lillie said. "I guess more or less we consider them family. I mean, we keep up with them -- you know when they're sick, and when they're out you call them because you want to find out why they're not here."

Many members at the dance said they enjoy seeing young faces on the dance floor. It gives them a chance to talk and dance with a younger generation.

"One of our granddaughters came up here with us one night and it tickled me," Clark Farney said. "There's this one guy -- we call him Skinny, but not to his face -- anyway, he's 90 years old.

"Well [my wife] Mary and I went out on the dance floor, and after a while, I looked around and I saw that Skinny had went and grabbed my granddaughter to dance," Farney said while laughing.

The dance also held special meaning for a few World War II veterans as they sat around a table sharing war stories.

Calvin Lee Hester is a World War II veteran, American prisoner of war and missing in action. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton.

He seemed eager to share his war memories with fellow veteran Lenuel Bailey and Baylor students.

He removed his war vest and proudly explained what each patch and pin stood for.

"When people ask about where I fought, I always remind them that you don't see many men left from World War II because they die probably about 19,000 a day," Hester said. "I always say 'You're very lucky to get to talk to one.'"

Bailey also shared his story as he recalled his duty spent in the South Pacific.

"I was the first one into Hiroshima after the atomic bomb," Bailey said. "I was in the medical corps and I drove a load of 24 doctors into there."

His wife, Louise, interjected to tell others sitting at the table about the importance of honoring America's veterans.

"His grandson called this morning to thank him for being a veteran," Louise said. "I just thought that was really sweet of him to do."

The Veterans Day dance gave senior citizens and Baylor students an opportunity to share in a pastime of dancing, life lessons and stories.

As Hester stood up from the table to return to the dance floor, he reminded a few students about what the evening meant to him.

"Dancing means you stay young, because if you come in here with an ache and pain or a headache and you hear the music, it helps you here," Hester said as he pointed to his head. "It helps you mentally because you forget your troubles."