Leon Malfait is making the rounds at the Washougal Senior Center, greeting old friends and making new ones.
When a visiting reporter asks Malfait his age, senior center volunteer and activity coordinator Charlie Walker teases his friend: “He’s 186.”
Malfait doesn’t miss a beat.
“Almost. I’ll be 97 in a couple months,” he says, laughing at Walker, who, at 65, is one of the youngest senior center regulars.
The reporter asks Malfait, a World War II veteran, what keeps him coming back to the senior center. Is it the activities? The companionship? The Meals on Wheels lunches?
“It’s the ladies,” Walker says.
Malfait nods and the two men break into another round of laughter.
The good-natured ribbings, laughter and friendship are par for the course at the downtown Washougal senior center, located off “C” Street, in the same complex as Washougal City Hall.
It’s the first Monday of the month, which means local seniors have come to the center to eat a warm lunch, mingle, get their blood pressure checked, pick up food from the food bank and maybe even play a little cribbage.
If it was the first Thursday of the month, they could entertain each other with karaoke and play pinochle. On most Tuesdays, the senior center hosts a morning exercise class, late-morning musical entertainment and an early afternoon watercolor class. Walker, an avid billiards player, has recruited several new senior center members to play pool in the center’s back room, which also contains a donated television, Wi player, and several shelves stuffed with movies, books and games to help seniors fill a gray, rainy day.
Wally Budsberg, 85, moved to Washougal from Tenino, Washington, in early 2018, after reuniting with a woman who had been his sweetheart during middle school. A former engineer, Budsberg appreciates the company he’s found at the local senior center, where he often comes to play cribbage on Monday afternoons.
Budsberg calls the senior center “one of the best-kept secrets in the area,” and says there’s always a fun activity to try.
“We have levels from beginner to experienced … (and) we have a couple seniors who are ‘legends in their own mind’ in pool, cribbage, pinochle, bunco (and) bingo. There are even a couple of good teachers, so whatever your level is, try us.”
The center needs more seniors, he says, especially what many at the center refer to as “young seniors,” or seniors ages 50 to 70.
“We do go down to 50,” Walker says of the center’s liberal policy on the definition of what constitutes a “senior.” “Most people think you need to be 65.”
The center’s most loyal volunteers are trying to figure out how to attract more seniors and even more “young seniors” to take part in the wide variety of senior center activities happening throughout the week.
Currently, the Washougal Senior Association, which costs $5 a year to join, has about 90 members. Those members’ annual dues help pay for things like the monthly pancake breakfast, which takes place from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., on the last Friday of the month, January through October, and the monthly birthday party, which celebrates all of the seniors having a birthday that month with music, flowers and a small party at 11:30 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month.
“We do fun things every day,” Budsberg says. “However, we need more seniors participating.”
Walker, a Vietnam War veteran, has been coming to the center for about 15 years. At age 50, Walker started volunteering as a Meals on Wheels delivery driver. Nowadays, he does everything from restocking the food bank refrigerator and freezer in the back room of the center after everyone has picked up their satchels of weekly food bank food, to organizing and distributing the monthly senior center activity calendar. Sometimes, Walker even brings his special cribbage board — one he carved out of a found deer antler — to the center for others to try out. His wife, Cindy, 66, acts as a greeter at the center two days a week.
He says he’s not sure what will bring the “younger seniors” into the center, but hopes publicizing the center’s variety of activities will help.
Rose Williams, who says she’s “60-something,” has been coming to the center for about 10 years, and says she mostly comes to see friends, listen to music and play bingo and cards.
The center’s regulars say they enjoy the variety of activities and are open to new ones — if a new member has a passion for something like quilting or another game that’s not already on the calendar, for instance — but relationships forged inside the center seem to be the glue holding everyone together.
Some folks have even found love at the Washougal Senior Center.
Maxine Terrill, 93, the former Washougal Senior Association president, came to the center a few years ago, hoping to find a square-dance partner after her husband died.
“My husband and I square danced for 50 years, and I hated to give it up,” she says.
Terrill’s search led her to the senior center, which didn’t have a square-dance group, but did have Dave Harding.
There was a slight age gap — Harding is 13 years younger — but the two clicked.
“I like older women,” Harding, 80, says, laughing. “We’ve been together for three years.”
All of the seniors who call the center home urge other Camas-Washougal area seniors age 50 and older to give the facility a try.
“I’ve met a lot of good people here,” Walker says. “We do have a lot of fun.”
The Washougal Senior Center is located at 1681 “C” St., Washougal. For more information, call 360-835-8113.