Pam Kirksey has worked at the Bald Knob Senior Center 55-Plus since 2010, and she still finds joy in her job every day.
She grew up in the Searcy area but moved to Trumann when she married at 18 years old.
“I was in Trumann for 32 years until my husband passed away,” Kirksey said.
The death of her husband brought her back to White County to take care of her mother, Betty. Kirksey worked various jobs throughout her career, but when she came to Bald Knob, she found her true passion: caring for and interacting with the elderly.
“There had been a senior center many years ago, and it thrived and did well, but for some reason it closed,” Kirksey said.
The closing of the former senior center gave her something to work toward. She wanted her mother to have a place to interact with others who shared the same interests as she did.
Kirksey is the first and only director of the Bald Knob Senior Center 55-Plus, which is housed in the former Bald Knob fire station.
“My mother told me they had a [senior center] in Searcy [when she lived there], and she really wished there was a place for seniors to gather here,” she said.
“So many of her friends were alone and didn’t have ways and means of getting out, so that’s basically how the idea came about.”
When Kirksey discovered that her mother and other seniors in the area needed and wanted a place to get together, Kirksey, her mother and her sister made something happen.
“This building [where the senior center is now] was all but abandoned,” Kirksey said. “We went to the mayor and asked if we could start a senior center here. He ran it by the City Council, and it was just like clockwork. They were all for it.”
Kirksey said the city has supported her and the center since it began in April 2010.
“My mother was the one who gathered all of her friends and got the word going,” Kirksey said. “I wasn’t a senior at that time. She was influential in getting people to come here.”
Kirksey’s mother died in February 2011.
“She helped me get it up and going,” Kirksey said, “and so many of her friends attended and still do.”
Individuals qualify as a senior at the center when they turn 55.
“Since we’re an independent center, we can set our own rules,” she said.
Kirksey’s past work in restaurant management helps her as she and the volunteers serve lunch each day the center is open.
“We invite the whole community to eat with us and join in activities that we have going on here,” she said.
Through running the center for the past three years, Kirksey said, she has realized how important it is for the city to have this service available for seniors.
“I realized what a place like this can do for you if you’re alone. That’s what inspires me. I hope there’s a place like this when I get older that I can come to.”
After her husband and her mother died, Kirksey said, she was left alone, so she now depends on the center for a sense of fellowship.
“If I didn’t have this place, I don’t know what I would do, because I am alone,” Kirksey said. “I love coming here every day.”
Though the center is open only four days a week, Kirksey said, she learns something new from the seniors each day they are there.
“There is a 90-year-old man who [comes to the center] and is so knowledgeable about the history of this area. I just sit and listen to him, and I’m amazed,” she said. “He’ll turn around and beat every domino player who is younger than him.”
Kirksey said many of the seniors drive to the center to enjoy their time with others.
“They inspire me because when you think you’re getting old, you think there’s no point to living,” she said. “They inspire me because I see that they’re no different than you or me. They still want to enjoy their life and live it to the fullest and do whatever they can.”
Though Kirksey’s father lives in Pangburn, he sometimes comes to the Bald Knob Senior Center.
“He’s 86, and he comes down here occasionally,” she said.
Working with the seniors has given Kirksey something to look forward to as she grows older.
“It’s not something to be dreaded. It’s just a different time in your life,” she said. “I’m truly amazed at some of the energy that these people have. They have more energy than I do.”
The interaction the seniors and Kirksey have with each other is something valuable that can’t be taken away, she said.
“People don’t realize how much the fellowship means to these people,” she said. “Half the people in here have lost spouses or children, and they come here, and they’re not sitting in their homes getting sick. The fellowship is so important here, and that should be stressed as far as what a senior citizens center provides.”
Kirksey said she enjoys making a difference in seniors’ lives.
“I love being in here hearing [the seniors] talking and visiting and laughing and having the best time. You know that’s a good thing,” she said.
One person can’t make the senior center a success, Kirksey said.
“It’s the city, community, the citizens, the seniors,” she said. “It’s just a joint effort into making this a success.”
Kirksey said she gives her all to the place that she depends on for a sense of fellowship.
“I’ve been given a lot in my life, and I want to be able to give back to the center and the seniors,” she said. “I want to grow old gracefully like they do.”
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.