Alice Fruits no longer drives, but she still makes it from her west Stockton home to the Oak Park Senior Center a few times a week.
It’s a tradition.
Fruits, 95, has been attending the facility for lunch and dances for more than 25 years, making her one of the longest active members of the Senior Center that celebrates its 50th anniversary with an open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s a good place for seniors to meet and to do activities they’re interested in,” Fruits said.
She learned of the center when she still was working at Diamond Lumber Company and a friend working at a nearby company told her about it.
Fruits began attending events even while she was working.
The Oak Park Senior Center is open to anyone 50 and older, and its programs are broad and varied.
Card games — canasta, pinochle, bridge — billiards, mahjong, arts and crafts, music, tai chi and other exercise classes, dances, luncheons and holiday celebrations start the list. But for $25 a year, members enjoy more.
“What seniors do around here is enjoy fellowship with one another. They make friends,” said Anna Marie Valadez-Stolte, president of the group’s board.
Valadez-Stolte moved to Stockton 12 years ago from Orange County when doctors told her she had five months to live and she wanted to be closer to a sister in Galt. The doctor was wrong, and Valadez-Stolte dived into a life in Stockton.
“At the time I came I was 55 and I always thought, ‘I’ve got to get in with seniors somehow,’ ” Valadez-Stolte said. “My husband was five years younger than me, and he didn’t want anything to do with seniors.”
Her husband passed away at age 57 and Valadez –Stolte joined the Oak Park Senior Center five years ago, one of eight organizations to which she donates time, something she said she has always done.
The Oak Park Senior Center board works in collaboration with the city of Stockton, which has helped keep the center going strong for so long, according to Jon Wright of the community services department.
“The Oak Park Senior Center board meets on a monthly basis and advises our center staff on things they’d like to see. It’s a mutual partnership,” Wright said.
It’s a relationship that dates to the Oak Park Senior Center’s founding, which goes back farther than 1968, the year the center’s four buildings were completed.
The idea of a program specifically for seniors began in the 1950s, when across the country, the population of those 65 and older had increased 450 percent. Communities began looking for ways that seniors could be active and engaged and feel relevant after they’d stopped working.
Stockton’s first step in that direction was a meeting on June 6, 1956 of 13 volunteers who set out to create an immediate organization for activities and plan for a future building that would “provide a place where people over 50 years of age could find companionship and an opportunity to pursue their interests in education and recreational activities,” according to a history of the center written for the City of Stockton’s Parks and Recreation department.
The group moved to several locations before settling on Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium, where it remained until the initial building was completed at Oak Park in 1961. Funds were raised by the community for the facility, coming from businesses, service clubs and individuals.
The craft and meetings, billiards and administration buildings were completed in 1968.
That’s the anniversary the organization celebrates Tuesday with its free program of food, music, an arts display and billiards tournament. The Oak Park Senior Center also will bury a time capsule.
Said Valadez-Stolte: “And we’ll have tours of the facility for people who might be interested in joining.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.