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Director of senior services named Maumelle Person of the Year

By Tammy Keith

This article was published February 11, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

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Nicole Vogler, who was named Person of the Year by the Maumelle Area Chamber of Commerce, was called “a tireless advocate for the city in general, especially to those 50 and older,” by Alicia Gillen, executive director of the chamber. Vogler said Maumelle had no senior services until she and three other city officials started brainstorming and led the charge. In 2004, the services started in a rented storefront and are now in the $4.6 million Maumelle Center on the Lake.

Nick Heaps was helping his mother, Nicole Vogler, get ready for a volunteer banquet at the Maumelle Center on the Lake.

It was Feb. 1, his 24th birthday, but he didn’t mind. He and his two siblings grew up helping out their mother, director of senior services for the city of Maumelle.

“Especially during the summers, they’d be short on volunteers. We’d get a call: ‘What are you doing today?’” Heaps said.

Vogler’s work with the city of Maumelle earned her the title Person of the Year by the Maumelle Area Chamber of Commerce. The honor was presented Jan. 25 by Mayor Mike Watson at the chamber’s annual banquet.

“I was really floored to be nominated,” Vogler said. “I was really, really excited to be nominated.”

When she got an email about the nomination, Vogler said, “At first, I was, ‘this has to be a joke.’” The second email made her a believer.

“I was so touched that I was nominated,” she said.

But she still didn’t expect to win the night of the Maumelle Area Chamber of Commerce banquet.

“I think my jaw dropped literally to the table,” she said. “My eyes were big as saucers.”

Alicia Gillen, executive director of the chamber, said Vogler was chosen for several reasons.

“She’s been a tireless advocate for our city in general, especially to those 50 and older,” Gillen said. “She was instrumental in the construction of the new senior services facility, The Maumelle Center on the Lake, that opened its doors in March 2017. Under Nicole’s leadership and with the help of the senior wellness center’s staff, Counting on Each Other and a multitude of volunteers, the Center on the Lake is booming with approximately 1,400 members and a large variety of programs to help Maumelle seniors age in place.”

Gillen said Vogler, through her work at the center, “has been instrumental in the success of our residents to thrive.”

Before Vogler worked with seniors, she worked with youth in Iowa, where she grew up in Tipton, a small rural community in Cedar County. “We had the only stoplight in Cedar County,” she said. “My mom was a homemaker, and my dad was a grain dealer.”

After high school, Vogler went to North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.

“I really wanted to have a dance studio, which is the exact opposite of what I do today,” she said.

A mother of three, she said most of her work was in the later hours.

“It was more of what we think of as second shift, and with small children, that was a tough time when you’re getting kids supper and ready for bed.”

While she was in college majoring in business, she choreographed a swing choir at the college, operated a small dance studio and worked for the Mason School District as sponsor of the drill team. She also worked part time at the YMCA in Davenport, Iowa, because its “weird hours” were perfect for her. “That jack-of-all-trades thing, master of none? I’ve got that down,” she said.

Vogler said she and her first husband moved to Maumelle at the end of 1998 for his job.

“Maumelle felt like a small town,” she said.

Vogler worked for the YMCA organization in Little Rock for several years, and as her children got involved in youth sports, she started volunteering and was a member of boards associated with youth sports. In 2002, she joined the Maumelle Parks and Recreation Department as activity supervisor and helped open the Jess Odom Community Center, as well as the Dowell Naylor Aquatic Center connected to it.

April 1 will mark 16 years that Vogler has worked for the city.

“I got to work with youth sports, but it was literally seven days a week during the busy season, and it literally had activity 7 a.m. till midnight. It was a little bit crazy,” she said.

Her children were attending Pine Forest Elementary School in Maumelle, “right behind the [community] center,” she said. After school, they got to hang out with her while she worked.

Maumelle had always been known for its excellent youth programs, she said, but its senior programs were lacking.

“In 2004, the city allowed us to become a city of all ages,” she said.

That’s when a discussion in the hallway at City Hall led Vogler and others to form the senior services department, and she became its director. They were talking about the Patrick Henry Hays Senior Center that opened in North Little Rock.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had this moment in your life, but it’s one of those moments you know is going to be very impactful,” she said. “There were four of us in the hallway; each of us had received requests, or pleas, from residents wanting activities for 50-plus, our seniors.”

The employees involved were Vogler; Judy Kellar, now economic development director for the city, who was in a different role then; Sue Sebo, then-assistant to the mayor; and Beverly Masters, the founding city clerk, responsible with the other leaders for developing the Maumelle city government, Vogler said.

“She was just a wealth of information and inspiration,” Vogler said.

The mayor at that time was Birch Johnson.

“From that conversation, we talked about the what-ifs; what could Maumelle do?” Vogler said. There were no naysayers. “’Let’s do and let’s try’ was the conversation.”

“We started from nothing in 2004,” she said. “The city allowed us to rent a storefront,” which was about 2,500 square feet. “We also developed a nonprofit. With seniors, some things the city can do better; some things a nonprofit can do better. People will donate to a nonprofit; they don’t want to donate to a city. Counting on Each Other Inc. started in 2005. A $35,000 seed grant was awarded to the nonprofit in 2005 from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.

Since the nonprofit’s start, it has given back to the city more than $150,000 of tangible items, Vogler said.

A big turning point came in 2005, when residents approved a bond issue that allowed the city to purchase the rest of City Hall and renovate 7,000 square feet in the lower level of the building, and the name was changed to the Senior Wellness Center.

“Most people think we started [at City Hall], but we actually started three years before that,” she said.

The senior program stayed squeezed into City Hall until March 2016, when the $4.6 million Maumelle Center on the Lake opened.

“In moving to this location, part of its charm is we actually rent out the facility to the public when we’re not open. It’s a beautiful place,” she said.

The center was built with the ability to be expanded, and her dream is to see a pool added to the center.

It has grown to 1,488 members, “not that I’m counting,” Vogler said, joking.

“I can remember seeing an article about the senior tsunami; here they come. What happened in 2008, with the economic downturn with pensions not being funded … there were just so many different economic situations that occurred.”

She has seen seniors reprioritize their lives, not retire.

“Major companies had layoffs; people retired and started a second, or sometimes third, career. We have members who are raising their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some full time, some 80 percent of the time.

“What I saw in 2004, for instance, with the seniors, is totally different than what we see today. We’re trying to be relevant,” Vogler said. “I’ve got an 80-year-old in the morning exercise class who can run circles around me.”

Classes offered include tai chi and pain management.

The senior-services program offers transportation, too.

“We do a lot of transportation, whether it’s dialysis patients to the clinic; heck, sometimes it’s just socialization — getting somebody [out]. I think back to my mom and what she would have wanted,” Vogler said. Her mother died in 2003.

“She had moved to Maumelle and was able to get into her own space, and she was loving life. At the same time, there was a limit of activities she felt she could do,”

Vogler said.

“A lot of the input I had [in forming the Senior Services Department] was not only from the Recreation and Parks job, but I was part of that sandwich generation, with young kids at home and a mom who needed social interaction … needs I couldn’t always meet,” she said.

“I was trying to help my mom at the same time as raising my kids” Vogler said. “My stay-at-home mom was a huge volunteer with Meals on Wheels. She would unofficially adopt some of these ladies, and I have memories of spending times with my mother and some of these ladies. I have memories of baking bread and saving the potato water, because that’s what you did.

“Even though she didn’t have a paid position, I grew up seeing her volunteer. I think she got as much out of it as they probably did.”

Heaps said he’s seen his mother contribute a lot to the city, and the Maumelle Center on the Lake is like a small business. He said she deserves the Person of the Year award, not only for opening the Maumelle Center on the Lake and growing its membership, but for “years of work accumulating up to this.”

Vogler said her mother taught her that it’s important to make “wherever you are better — to give back. Sometimes people want to give overseas, but sometimes you need to look in your backyard. Not that giving overseas is bad, but we have needs here.”

Her passion is giving back to seniors.

“I enjoy helping them. I enjoy that I have the opportunity to come to work and make a difference,” she said. “That’s my favorite part.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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