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When Catherine Bissel’s husband Ed retired 35 years ago, he signed the two of them up for the St. Vincent de Paul’s 55 Plus Club.
The couple had been active at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in North Toledo and it seemed natural to join the group of mostly ethnic seniors.
Sunday, Ms. Bissel, a North Toledo native, was honored as one of the longest-serving members of the group upon its 35th anniversary.
“I think we need to stick together because a lot of older people are neglected in ways and many live alone,” said Ms. Bissel who continues to live in North Toledo.
Peter Ujvagi, former Lucas County administrator and past state representative, helped found the group and quipped during an anniversary luncheon held Sunday at Mercy St. Charles Hospital that he has been eligible for membership for a few years.
“Ethnic seniors are very proud and many survive on the very minimal,” he said. “Over the years, the fact that this organization has continued and is thriving, is one of the great legacies of our community."
Mr. Ujvagi said the group was started around the St. Vincent de Paul Church area through the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer program, of which his mother-in-law Irene Zarecky was a member.
“The VISTA program was national and very little was going on in ethnic neighborhoods,” he said.
Marcy Sieczkowski of North Toledo, one of the group’s founders and its current president, was a VISTA volunteer in North Toledo.
“They needed a VISTA volunteer who spoke Polish, and that was me,” Ms. Sieczkowski said. “That was because this area had a lot of people who speak only Polish.”
The VISTA program started working a year earlier helping Hungarian immigrants in East Toledo and then shifted to concentrate on Polish immigrants in North Toledo, Ms. Sieczkowski said.
“We had a blood pressure clinic at the church and we had coffee and cookies for two months, and during the third month, we had a potluck at the church, and that is how the 55 Plus Club started. The group, which has about 150 members, meets in a former school (which houses a charter school) of the now-closed church.
Among the other founders were U.S. Rep Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and the Rev. Joseph Jaros, who helped raise money to get it started.
Father Jaros, who was pastor of St. Vincent, said the group started around the parish and grew.
“In this group, you can tell people really relate here,” he said.
“They come together to share life and share experiences.”
Miss Kaptur, who also attended the anniversary luncheon, called the group a “connective tissue” of the North Toledo neighborhood.
She also addressed issues pertinent to all senior citizens.
“Be confident your Social Security and Medicare is okay, despite the threat we get from those who want to get their hands in the till,” Miss Kaptur said. “One of the things that does worry me are all these scams on senior citizens in our community.”
The support of groups such as the St. Vincent de Paul’s 55 Plus Club helps seniors avoid such tragedies, others said.
The event Sunday ended with the group of about 50 people singing Happy Birthday followed by a Polish rendition of “100 years, 100 years, may you live 100 years.”