New St. John senior center opens in Reserve

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 19, 2006



LAPLACE — Iris Palermo, 64, of LaPlace remembers the difficult time she faced four years ago when her husband died.

&#8220I just didn’t know how to go on with my life. There I was crying in a supermarket and a lady came up to me and suggested I start going to the Senior Center in LaPlace, since there would be others there I could talk to,” she said.

Four years later, Palermo sat at Thursday’s grand opening ceremony of the new St. John Council on Aging Activity Center, knowing better than many how important the center is.

&#8220This friend told me to come to the Senior Center, and even though I wasn’t sure about it, I went and made wonderful friends. The center was so important to me, and now I come all the time and want to be there to help others,” she explained.

A large crowd of public officials, dignitaries and

many seniors filled the main meeting room at the beautiful, new 9,000-square-foot Senior Center located in Regala Park in Reserve, as grand opening ceremonies were held this week.

Many stories were told about the importance of the center for seniors, and how the much bigger center, with more amenities, will help the seniors of St. John Parish.

&#8220This gives me somewhere to go every day to meet with other people,” 71-year-old Helen Hilaire said. &#8220It’s so nice that we have a bigger place to come now.”

Council on Aging Board Member Bruno Burrell Jr. was the Master of Ceremonies at the event, and was the first of many people to acknowledge Parish President Nickie Monica, as the driving force to get the project off the ground.

Monica remembers his first day on the job as parish president, and how he pulled up to his parking place, looking directly at the small, rundown Senior Center in town.

&#8220The first thing I thought is that our seniors deserved something better than that. I started right then trying to get a new center for them,” he said. &#8220And today is a great day for our seniors since this building will be used for many years.”

The center cost $900,000 to construct, and although being delayed somewhat by Hurricane Katrina, was unveiled with a fabulous grand opening event.

Visitors got to see the many amenities, such as the main hall with a stage, an exercise room with treadmill and other equipment, a &#8220respite room” with a whirlpool, a kitchen, dual conference room and library, as well as administrative offices for staff.

The center is being co-named in honor of Frank G. Lapeyrolerie, the first Council on Aging chairman, and Leola Montz, the first Council on Aging Director.

Elexia Henderson, chairperson for the Council on Aging, told the history of how the St. John Center began in its first building.

&#8220The federal government gave the states money for seniors, so we got a call from someone with the state who wanted to know who headed up our homemaker groups. That was in 1976, and now we have this 30 years later. The original leaders would be happy with this building,” she noted.

Council on Aging Executive Director Barbaras Gralapp reminded attendees that the center &#8220began as an idea on a napkin,” eventually becoming the design which was completed by Murray Architect,Inc. of Destrehan, with M&H Builders Inc. of Vacherie the general contractors.

St. John Sheriff Wayne Jones and Monica were both given plaques for their commitment to the seniors over the years, as Monica was lauded for the vision to build the center, and continuing to push to get it funded and completed. Jones was thanked by several speakers for always providing help from the Sheriff’s Office for seniors.

As the sheriff talked, he fought back tears when mentioning how much the center showed the community coming together for a great cause.

&#8220This is a very special day for the seniors of St. John Parish,” he said. &#8220This is what St. John is about, and it’s so appropriate that we are dedicating the center the weekend of Father’s Day. I am so proud of how many people worked together to make this happen, and I hope everyone reflects on their families this weekend, and our seniors, and how much they all mean to us.”