PANAMA CITY BEACH — Ramona Sewell led a tour of the Panama City Beach Senior Center on a recent cold morning, and as she crossed the parking area between buildings, she remarked on the empty spaces.
“Just wait until January,” she said. “The parking lots will be packed. That’s when most of our snowbirds are here. It’s like family coming home, you know?”
Sewell came to work at the center in 2004. She was “looking for something to do” after the death of her husband. A part-time job soon grew to full-time, and it never has slowed down.
Today, the center’s membership roll stands at more than 700. But there are many more users than those on the rolls.
“Three days a week, the Council on Aging comes over from Panama City to play bingo and have lunch, for instance,” she said.
The center is run by a not-for-profit foundation that subsists on donations and minimal charges for classes. It receives some operating expenses from Panama City Beach.
The three buildings on the campus host classes in painting, woodworking, exercise, yoga, Zumba, Spanish, stained glass, strength training with hand weights, line dancing and many other activities. A regulation bocce court stretches behind one of the structures.
Organized card games include canasta, bridge and many more. The games have a $4 ante, with the winner splitting the pot with the center.
The center also rents its space for community uses, including wedding receptions, birthday parties and meetings. Recently, it hosted political forums for local candidates. There is a lending library and computer room, a meeting room with jigsaw puzzles available and fresh coffee in the offices.
Ed Thomason manages the sanctioned bridge games. In the summer, he fills four or five tables, he said, but the number of players explodes from January to March, requiring 20 tables to accommodate them. The card games share space in the main gymnasium area of the center with the exercise classes.
Peggy Beck has taught exercise and dancing classes at the center for 20 years. She was the first instructor hired by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, she said.
“Back then, I taught exercise classes in a smoke-filled room,” she said. “In those days, the bridge players could smoke indoors.”
When the influx of winter visitors hits in January, she anticipates having more than 100 of what she calls “mature bodies” stretching and exercising in her classes twice a week.
“It’s a support group,” Beck said. “Whatever takes place in this room stays in the room. We’re like Vegas.”
- Where: 423 Lyndell Lane, Panama City Beach
- Hours: Vary, see online schedule of events and classes
- Costs: $15 membership fee until Jan. 1, then $30 for all of 2013; some classes also have minor fees
- Details: 236-3038 or pcbsc.com
Upcoming Senior Center Events:
- Dec. 1: Christmas Craft Bazaar 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; free admission; shop for hand-crafted gifts, baskets, jewelry, ornaments, cards, paintings and more.
- Dec. 7: Fish Fry 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; $10 per plate.
- Dec. 15: Todd Herendeen’s “Legends” show begins at 6 p.m.; $15 admission benefits the beach feral cats program; sponsored by The Red Hat Society.