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Jane Booth, longtime senior center director in Hadley, to retire

  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth, standing, chats with Hadley residents, from left, Joanne Walrath, Barbara Formica, Jeannette Horne and Doris LeCourt during lunch Tuesday. Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth, standing, chats with Hadley residents, from left, Joanne Walrath, Barbara Formica, Jeannette Horne and Doris LeCourt during lunch Tuesday. Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth chats with Hadley residents, from left, Joanne Walrath, Barbara Formica, Jeannette Horne and Doris LeCourt during lunch Tuesday. Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth chats with Hadley residents, from left, Joanne Walrath, Barbara Formica, Jeannette Horne and Doris LeCourt during lunch Tuesday. Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth, standing, chats with Hadley residents, from left, Joanne Walrath, Barbara Formica, Jeannette Horne and Doris LeCourt during lunch Tuesday. Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Hadley Senior Services Director Jane Wagenbach Booth chats with Hadley residents, from left, Joanne Walrath, Barbara Formica, Jeannette Horne and Doris LeCourt during lunch Tuesday. Wagenbach Booth will be retiring in July after 23 years at the Council On Aging.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

With tears in her eyes last week, Booth said that what she will miss most about her job as senior services director in Hadley are the people she has been able to help.

“We want to offer the programs here so that people can get out and socialize,” she said. “But the ultimate goal of reaching out is to find people who need other services more critical to their survival.”

Booth, 66, who has worked for the Hadley Council on Aging since 1990, will retire from her position as director in July. In her time with the council it has opened a senior center and vastly expanded its offerings.

“I view the job as really important because it’s not just getting people to come in to play cards or to have lunch,” Booth said. “It’s to find the people that are at home and lonely or ill and need transportation and need the more serious help.”

She said that staff and volunteers at the center help seniors apply for available aid and connect them with other organizations that can offer assistance — like veterans services and Highland Valley Elder Services, a social service organization in Florence.

Each day, the senior center serves lunch — which is provided by Highland Valley Elder Services — to any senior who wants to come. The meal is free, and attendees are asked to donate within their means to help defray the cost. Booth said the lunches usually attract 12 to 15 people.

The center also provides programs for those just looking to socialize. There are computer skills classes, weekly domino games, monthly birthday parties and trips. Booth said that the most popular offerings are exercise classes, like yoga, tai chi and Dancercise, now called movement and sculpt.

“A lot of people don’t want to go to a senior center because they’re not old enough. They can be in their 90s but they’re not old enough,” Booth said. “But it’s OK to come for fitness.”

The center’s annual Christmas and Mardi Gras parties also draw large crowds of 80 to 100 people, Booth said. The center has frequent day and overnight trips. In April participants will travel to historical sites in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and in January they will be taking a cruise to the Mediterranean.

Jane Nevinsmith, who works for the senior center in many capacities — as a paid van driver, as the volunteer organizer for overnight trips and as a computer skills teacher — said the center’s growth is a tribute to Booth’s efforts.

“For a town of our size — 4,500 people — it’s quite an amazing thing that she’s doing.”

Started small

When Booth began working for the Council on Aging almost 23 years ago, she was the only paid employee besides its van drivers. Her title was program coordinator, and although the council organized events like bingo night in the community room at Golden Court Apartments and a holiday party at Hopkins Academy, she said her main job was coordinating van service with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority.

In 1999 Booth moved from her small office in the Town Hall — which now houses a copier — to the newly opened senior center in the Hooker School. The center has space for parties, an education room and programs like exercise classes.

Now the center has three employees: Booth, who works 35 hours per week; Elsie Waskiewicz, who serves as the community outreach coordinator and works two days per week; and Kathleen Fiske, who manages the office five hours a week.

Although the staff has grown in Booth’s time with the Council on Aging, she said that even with volunteer assistance the staff is too small to keep up with the needs of the community. Booth said she has repeatedly — but unsuccessfully — sought funding to pay the staff to work more hours. “Over the years I have donated many, many hours, which I haven’t minded doing, but a lot of people wouldn’t be in a position to be able to do that,” Booth said. “I’m hoping that they will pay sufficiently to get someone that will stay for a while.”

This year, the town budget for the Council on Aging is $72,432, including $66,582 for salaries and $5,850 for supplies. Booth earns $51,565 annually.

The town also appropriates $36,500 to maintain the senior center. The council also receives $9,723 in grants from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs and $3,200 from Highland Valley Elder Services, according to Booth.

She said donations, class fees and profits from some of the center’s trips also help cover program costs.

Reading from a prepared statement, Booth said that she is retiring in order to spend more time with her grandchildren — ages 2, 3 and 4 — and travel more, but “I am not being totally honest if I don’t acknowledge that the demands of the job are playing a role in my decision to retire.”

Nevinsmith, who is a member of the senior services director search committee, said that it is going to be hard to find a replacement who handles the demands of the job as gracefully as Booth. Applications for the position are due March 29, and the committee has received five so far.

“We’re looking for someone who can juggle about 10 different balls at the same time and who can smile at the same time,” Nevinsmith said. “I can’t say there’s any one thing the senior center does, there’s a hundred things the Senior Center does. And finding somebody who can step into Jane’s shoes is going to be difficult.”

Booth said that her broad experience volunteering in Hadley and working as a social worker gave her the tools she needed for her job with the Council on Aging.

She expects to be a frequent visitor at the senior center.

“I’m going to come back and play Mexican train and finish up some of those jobs that I wanted to do while I was the director and didn’t have time.”

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