Al and Mary Ann Vetter greeted senior citizens at the door of Faith Lutheran Church.
Marlene Batterberry welcomed guests into the downstairs fellowship hall dining area.
Valley Senior Services Executive Director Brian Arett coordinated the meal sign-in along with daily recruiting for future meals.
Frank Lenzmeier chatted with guests as they made their way to their respective tables to enjoy the food and conversation.
Such was the scene Wednesday, Sept. 1, as a group of senior citizens gathered for the first time for food and fellowship as part of a new noon senior citizen meal program within the community of West Fargo.
Partners in the endeavor currently include the City of West Fargo, Valley Senior Services and Faith Lutheran Church, with Valley Senior Services contracting for the meal site and the location at Faith Lutheran, and funding provided by the City of West Fargo and Valley Senior Services.
Organizers have been working for the last five years on realizing the day, and are viewing the senior meal program as 'an excellent beginning' to an even more exciting expanded venue that they are hoping will eventually include coordinated recreational, fitness and educational activities, and a more long-term, permanent building for the West Fargo Senior Program.
In order for that to occur, members of the committee are looking for the additional support of seniors in the community to help make the program successful. They say the first way seniors can best participate is by taking in the noon meal, and if the first day is any indication, the program is off to a rousing start, with 40 registered to dine, a number Arett described as "really good. We were thinking 25 would be good, but 40 is great. This is really exciting and we are very happy to be here. We are so thankful to the people at Faith Lutheran Church. They are really embracing this program and it wouldn't be working without them."
On that note, any seniors 60 years of age and older interested in being a part of the noon meal program are welcome and encouraged to do so. Meals will be available on a regular basis, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, in the Fellowship Hall at Faith Lutheran Church, 127 2nd Ave. E., West Fargo. Transportation is also available through the Senior Ride Program operated by Valley Senior Services.
Suggested meal donation is $3.50 for the individual and their spouse or whatever they can afford. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance, and can be arranged by calling 701-293-1440, or signing up at the noon meal. The same number can be dialed to secure a ride.
Citizen input is also being sought regarding the types of services seniors would like to see implemented as the program grows. There is also a need for additional volunteers willing to give of their time to help promote the program.
Al and Mary Ann Vetter, who became involved in the planning this past year, are serving as volunteer coordinators. Right now, they are looking for individuals to assist with the noon meal and to help clear tables. Anyone wishing to help out can give them a call at 701-277-0309.
The Vetters take their involvement with the program seriously and say they are happy to be able to give something back to the community. "This is important to both of us because we are retired and it is a great way to fill our time," Al said. "We are dedicated to charity for seniors and got really excited about this last fall. When we see senior centers in other communities (here mentioning specifically his hometown of Napoleon and the one in Bismarck) and how great they are, I think why can't West Fargo have one? We want a senior center for West Fargo not only for meals but for everything else that goes with it."
Al said they were proud to be a part of the day last Wednesday. "We just want to make sure everybody feels comfortable, and let them know that we are glad they came and that we want them to come back."
City Commissioner and longtime West Fargo resident and businessman Mike Thorstad who has worked on the committee with longtime promoter Frank Lenzmeier and several others, said it was really "nice to see this get going. Frank has done a great job getting the ball rolling. With the growing senior population out here it makes a lot of sense and there is a lot of excitement in community supporting this. There is a need for this and we have to make sure the commitment to this will grow thanks to the plan and vision far beyond today."
Sharon Odegaard, member of the West Fargo Park Board, was also present stating she felt it "fantastic to have something like this to offer for the seniors." She said park district officials who have been approached about a future association with activities for the program, are in the process of having all their questions answered so everyone knows what the expectations are.
Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan, also a longtime committee member, said a goal is to make sure the meal program thrives with that success paving the way for additional activities. "Today's turnout is outstanding and a great start to building the routine for what we hope will be long-term participation," Reitan said. "Our goal will continue to be to get the word out in the community that there is another area available for senior meals, as well as other information as it becomes available, so people know what is going on."
Reitan agreed that Lenzmeier's involvement has been a huge catalyst in the realization of this first phase of the program.
Lenzmeier is humble but obviously very proud of being a part of achieving current program status. He acknowledges that the day has been a long time in the making but well worth the time and efforts expended.
"Today didn't just happen," he said, mentioning the early interaction of such community individuals as Marvin Leidal, Chuck Cheney, DeWitt Batterberry, and Brian Arett.
Lenzmeier was also instrumental in approaching the West Fargo City Commission earlier this year in a successful bid to secure funding for the program.
He said his next goal is to draw the park board more intensely into the mix. "They need to get more involved with the senior program. This will be the perfect venue for them. If they buy into this, you will see Frank three times as happy. This is really a golden opportunity for everyone."
Anyone with questions regarding any part of the West Fargo senior citizen program is encouraged to contact: Mike Reitan at 701-433-5521; Frank Lenzmeier at 701-282-5596; Edith Sloat at 701-282-2980; and Brian Arett at 701-293-1440.