There was fire, there was food, and there were smiles at the Hugh A. Doyle Senior Center Saturday, as it celebrated its 40th anniversary.
It was four decades ago on July 30 that the final section of the center was completed and became part of the center at 3 Bancker Pl. Since that fateful day in 1971, the center has provided services for over 5,000 seniors annually through a variety of nutritional, recreational and educational programs.
Thomas Crossman, a former director who served from 2002-2008, took a moment during the festivities to highlight the services that the center has provided.
“It’s incredible to think that this center in its time has served about 1,000,000 meals, give or take a few,” said Crossman.
The facility has done more than that, providing 500,000 rides to various destinations and helping over 250,000 seniors with their social, financial and medical concerns.
“They know that they can come here and find someone to talk to. They know that they can come here and have someone help them with an application or with services they need,” said former New Rochelle Mayor Frank Garito.
But most importantly it has given the senior citizen community of New Rochelle a wide breadth of recreational activities.
New Rochelle resident Evelmira Algarate enjoys the dance classes offered. She and almost 30 other seniors pack into Eduardo Fasce’s class and learn to dance and express themselves.
“I want to be his personal dance partner,” said Algarete, after which she exploded into laughter.
Other members of the center tout the various trips they arrange for them.
“I love the fact that we get to do things. We have gone to Italy and Germany. We are going to City Island,” said Shirley Davis of New Rochelle.
Others enjoyed the virgin Blue Hawaiians prepared by local volunteers who rushed to meet the demand for liquid refreshment, while the New Rochelle Police Department’s Explorer cadets helped served them plates of steaming Hawaiian-style pork and fluffy rice.
Mayor Noam Bramson, decked out in a grass skirt, made a stop at the center to proclaim July 30 Hugh Doyle Senior Center Day throughout the community of New Rochelle.
“The friendship you provide each other is the key. It forms the basis of what the Hugh Doyle Center is,” Bramson said.
State Assemblyman George Latimer and Commissioner Mae Carpenter of Westchester County’s Department of Senior Programs and Services also stopped by with proclamations from the state and county.
Latimer said the center was important because it gives people something of which to be a part.
“You can become like a little island or you can come to a place like this and be part of a community,” he said. “It’s great to see such a connection between the seniors and the kids in the Explorers who one day will themselves become seniors.”
Aside from the food and music, the crowd of 200 was treated to a live hula show and fire dancing from the folks of Aloha Hula NYC. Dancers Nalu and Mati taught some seniors how to tell stories with their hands, and Chief Taki showed some of the men how to do a Samoan slap dance. The crowd was also dazzled by Chief Taki's fire dance.
Peggy Gordon, the niece of the former councilman for whom the center is named, attended the celebration.
“The beauty of the [center] is that it keeps us all young,” she said. “But it also lets us help other people and that is what uncle Huey was about.”
But it was Vito Girodano, the first director of the senior center, who said it best when asked about what the center has become.
“Hugh would ... say, ‘We finally did it. It’s like a dream come true to see what it has done for seniors,’ ” Girodano said.