CONWAY — It was significant in the world of senior centers when Conway’s facility was certified in 2012 as a wellness and activity center and changed its name to reflect that.
Now, as it gets ready to celebrate a grand opening at 2 p.m. Sept. 4 in its new location, the Conway Senior Wellness and Activity Center will change names again.
The building will be The Ola and John Hawks Center, thanks to a $500,000 donation from the Hawks Family Foundation.
Debra Robinson, executive director of the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Program, said the Hawks foundation made the contribution during the capital campaign to buy the building at 705 Siebenmorgen Road in Conway.
“It was the reason we got to do this,” Robinson said. “If we hadn’t gotten their commitment for that, there probably wouldn’t have been any reason for us to proceed.”
She said the sign in front of the building will designate it as The Ola and John Hawks Center, a wellness and activity center for senior adults.
Robinson said that initially, the $2.2 million Make It Happen capital campaign had $800,000 in pledges — money from the Hawks Family Foundation, the city of Conway and Conway Corp.
“That was our kick-start right there. That sort of told us, ‘Yes, we can do this,’” she said.
Lori Melton, co-chairwoman of the capital campaign, said the Hawks family is “not big on recognition,” but they will be honored on a tribute wall, along with others who donated $1,000 or more. The wall is part of the work by Conway artist Tim Morris, she said, who also painted a mural in the center’s lobby.
John Hawks died in September 2009. In his obituary, it was written: “Philanthropy and benevolence — terms by which John Hawks subscribed to and followed throughout his life — were evident by numerous gifts which, by design, limited recognition because his goal was providing for a better community, not attention. John committed himself to his community.”
The Hawks family was out of state at press time and could not be reached for comment.
The Faulkner County Council on Aging bought the former Agora Conference & Special Events Center and moved the senior program to the Siebenmorgen Road building from cramped quarters on Donaghey Avenue in a former church. The program had operated in the Donaghey Avenue location since 1980, and the program had far outgrown the space, Robinson said.
The program served its first meals at the Siebenmorgen Road location on July 23.
Melton said that at the center’s grand opening on Sept. 4, a ribbon cutting will be held at 2 p.m., and dignitaries will speak.
“We’ll have tours of the facility,” Melton said. “There will be people playing pool, people in the library, in the fitness center, so they can see it in action.”
An open house with tours and refreshments will be held from 5-7 p.m. that day “for people who can’t come at 2,” Robinson said.
It will be a long day for her, but she said that’s fine.
“It’ll be a day I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” she said.
It’s also the 40th anniversary of the senior-citizen program, and to celebrate that, a dance with a homecoming theme will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at the center. Melton said because the program started in 1974, attendees will be asked to dress in ’70s styles, and music from that decade will be played. Cars from the 1970s will be displayed outside, too.
“It should be fun,” Melton said.
Robinson thought the numbers would grow when the program moved, and she was right.
“Three weeks today, we’ve been here,” she said on Wednesday, “and I counted at two weeks over 120 new people that never had been before,” Robinson said. “Somebody is coming in every day who has never been here — every day.”
Last Friday, 150 people had lunch in the new location. Normally, about 80 show up for lunch, she said.
“People have said, ‘We were waiting for you to get here because we’re on this side of town,’ so the location is good,” Robinson said. She said the regular attendees are still coming in for activities, too.
Robinson said she’s had many people comment that they didn’t come to events at the former facility because it was too crowded.
The Donaghey Avenue location had 9,446 square feet; The Ola and John Hawks Center has 18,750 square feet.
In addition to a large ballroom and rooms for classes such as art and music, the new center has a workout room with all new equipment.
Robinson said the emphasis on wellness and activity is part of the “newer image” for senior centers.
“Seniors are more healthy; they’re more active, and we want to keep it that way by providing programs to help them meet those goals,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.