Imagine two high school seniors with long hair and tie-dyed T-shirts riding skateboards down Washington Street in the spring of 1971. A “senior center” was probably the furthest thing from their 17-year-old minds, and yet today those carefree teens are 67!
Like the skateboarders of yesteryear, today locals can come and enjoy Sequim’s senior center. The center is able to provide vital services and fun activities as Shipley Center because folks in our wonderful Sequim community invested time and treasure and planned ahead 50 years ago.
It was May 27, 1971, when an intrepid group of Sequim pioneers signed the articles of incorporation and named the organization the Senior Citizens Center of Sequim. The group changed their name a few times along the way, but where did it all start?
The Center began life in the basement of the old Sequim Presbyterian Church. Many of its first members came from “The Leisure Hours Club” started by the church in the 1950s.
The first board included English teacher and poet Hart Smith as president, Cecil Miller as secretary/treasurer, and board directors Everett Lindaas, Rev. Floyd Torrence, Earl Morrell and Rhea Sherman. The first executive director was Bill Cooper.
In 1972, the center moved from the church to its second location at the old 1913 Sequim “Town Hall” building east of the old Fire Station on Cedar Street.
Later, that building became the City’s Public Works Department for a number of years before being sold and moved to 170 W. Bell St.
Around 1976, the City of Sequim asked the Sequim Senior Citizens — as the group called themselves — if they’d like to move to a larger city building.
Eager for the opportunity, the seniors moved a few doors down into the wood-framed “Community Center” — formerly the Adventist Church, on the corner of North Second Avenue and West Cedar Street, where today’s Transit Center was later built.
This third home for the center was rent-free as it was shared with the City of Sequim, but the seniors needed to raise some money to pay the utilities each month. Senior activities had to end by 4 p.m. each day, and seniors could not use it on weekends. The building had one main room for activities and one room for a pool table, plus a small office.
In the late 1970s the membership of more than 100 decided an expansion/remodel was in order, and with the city’s permission greatly improved and expanded their operations into additional parts of the building, including a kitchen, two bathrooms and more. The labor was provided by volunteers of the then-named Sequim Senior Center working together with much of the building material donated by Sequim merchants.
Bingo, cards, pool, checkers, chess, and other games were played, and there were sing-a-longs, potlucks and socializing. This worked fine until the mid-1980s, when the need for even more space became obvious. The group dreamed of a bigger building to hold more people and activities.
In 1987, Sequim Senior Center obtained its official 501(c)3 nonprofit status from the IRS, changing its corporate name to Sequim Senior Task Force.
An odd name, but there was a “task” to be done, and they were focused on it. The fast-growing group was dreaming of a home of their own to buy or build, and donors wanted to be able to deduct their gifts to the cause.
In 1989, executive director George Woodriff was hired and tasked by the board with finding a building or a building site and most importantly, funds to accomplish the goal. Fundraisers were held over the years, including pancake breakfasts, raffles, rummage sales, auctions, car washes and various other fundraisers to help what was then known as Sequim Senior Center.
There were several “false starts,” and on at least three occasions the Center was offered various land donations from generous people in the community, but some strings were attached.
For one reason or another each site had to be turned down or returned to the donor because of logistical problems or deadlines for construction that could not be met.
Eventually, enough money was raised and bequeathed to the organization, and in August of 1992 Woodriff succeeded in finding a large pole barn building at 921 E. Hammond St. for sale and arranged for its immediate purchase.
Home on Hammond Street
The building the center is in today was originally built and owned by local Sequim dairy farmers Willie and Florence Belfield. Current member Mary Bell says that Willie had built the barn to store construction materials, trucks and equipment.
Later, when the housing development on Blair and Belfield Avenues up the hill south of the Center was built, Willie and his business partner used the building as construction headquarters and named the new neighborhood Flora’s Acres in honor of his wife.
The center’s building at 921 E. Hammond has seen many other uses over the years, and has been owned by two different Sequim mayors.
The Belfields sold to former Sequim mayor Bill Thomas and his wife Carol, who turned the building into a health club with racquetball courts. One court remains today as Shipley Center’s “Dance Hall,” complete with beautiful hardwood floors.
The Thomas’ later sold it to Sequim Mayor Ed Beggs and his wife Dorothea, who were Senior Center members. The Beggs turned 921 E. Hammond into an antiques mall, with vendors selling their wares throughout.
On the sale to Sequim Senior Center in 1992, members said that the building “had found its true calling.”
Renovations and remodeling of the old pole barn started right away, with Woodriff and 100 senior volunteers working to add walls, renovate restrooms, hang drywall, paint, install light fixtures, flooring and more. Some volunteers had professional building experience and taught the novices what to do to help.
There was great pride in the 1,350 senior members finally owning their own “home” that they moved into in January 1993.
Shortly afterward, the new “Trips Department” was created and money was raised for a bus for seniors to enjoy trips all over Western Washington. There were also international trips planned. In fact, the “Trips” program became a major source of revenue for the Center’s operations, bringing in more than $100,000 in sales per year in the mid-1990s.
More space, mortgage free
Nearly exactly 10 years after the purchase of 921 E. Hammond St., Sequim’s indomitable seniors broke ground on a 3,885 square foot addition on Aug. 27, 2002.
Three sides of the building were added onto, creating a larger main room, a brighter art room, computer classroom, multi-purpose classroom, health services room, storage areas, new restrooms, café dining room, director’s office and a new front-desk lobby.
This added 63 percent more usable space for “Friendship, Recreation, and Education!”
Generous donors and volunteer workers had a vision and made it happen, but it came with a 20-year bank loan.
In 2005 the legal name of the nonprofit corporation was changed to its current name, Sequim Senior Services, and right after that Executive Director Michael Smith was hired. In 2007, it began “doing business as” Sequim Senior Activity Center.
In 2013, the members of Sequim Senior Activity Center, encouraged by Smith, decided to get the center out of debt completely. Judy Priest, a longtime member and volunteer, led the charge donating $300 and challenging others to match or exceed her gift.
The successful $135,000 “Burn the Mortgage!” campaign was completed in about 100 days, and the center has not carried any debt since.
Today, the “doing business as” name is Shipley Center, in honor of longtime member and benefactor extraordinaire R. Leo Shipley.
Today, with the first 50 years behind us, we continue to look to the future and the next 50 years! Plans are in the works to expand our capacity and health related programs by building a Health & Wellness Annex with 6,460 more square feet for current and future seniors to enjoy. It will include the Fred Chan gymnasium, the Albert Haller Foundation Classroom, and the First Federal Community Foundation Demonstration Kitchen.
People of all ages are invited to show their support by purchasing a membership and participating in programs of interest to them. If you’re not a “senior” yet, like those skateboarders heading down Washington Street, we will all “get there” someday!
For more information on Shipley Center, visit shipleycenter.org or call 360-683-6806.
Michael M. Smith is executive director for Shipley Center, 921 E. Hammond St., Sequim. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shipley Center Open House
50 years of service to Sequim seniors (1971-2021)
When: Noon-3 p.m. Thursday, May 27
Where: 921 E. Hammond St.
Features: Live music, raffles, free hot dogs and more
• Music: 12:15 p.m. Hula dancers
• 1 p.m. Cake cutting and remarks
• 1:15 p.m. Ukulele players
• 2:30 p.m. Amanda Bacon sings
More info: shipleycenter.org or call 360-683-6806
Safety protocol: This is an outdoor event with social distancing required.
Building visitors asked to wear masks inside as the Center has an indoor mask-required policy until June 30 under Gov. Jay Inslee’s guidelines.