When Toby Brewster started work for the Loudon County Office on Aging as secretary in 1978, the Loudon County Senior Center was located in a three-level dormitory that housed nurses employed at the Bacon Hospital in Loudon.
Brewster remained with the office throughout her career, working through the ranks to become director in 1992. She was in that position when the program moved in 2006 to the new Loudon County Senior Center.
Brewster is leaving Tuesday, retiring after 34 years. She plans to spend time playing with her grandson and traveling with her husband.
It will be interesting to see senior life from the retirement perspective, she said.
As she worried about helping older people for years, something somewhat surprising happened, she said.
"I got old myself," she said, with a wry, 68-year-old smile.
"I guess I have worked every job we had here at one point or another," Brewster said. "Gussie McSpadden was the first senior director, and Vicki Williams was director when I came to work. I have been secretary, activities coordinator, kitchen worker and even van driver if I was needed."
Brewster faced her share of challenges in the job. Before the center moved to its present location, Brewster's charge for 28 years was finding space for programs to serve seniors.
When the new building was completed, Brewster's challenge was to get it furnished through fundraisers and donated items.
"We got really nice stuff," Brewster said. "We contacted so many people, and the whole community got involved."
Now, the challenge is to reach out to an aging population and encourage seniors to participate in the programs the center provides. Many people, Brewster said, are not informed about what is available or simply don't get involved. She does not understand why.
"I have 95-year-old people who tell me that when they get old enough they are going to come to the center to exercise," Brewster said.
But there's more to do than exercise class.
"Our focus is to keep people viable in their older years," Brewster said. "We give them a place for socializing and structured programs -- things to do. We make a difference. That is one of our goals. We always want to expand our programs. This building has tripled our participation. We have more young retirees."
The building located at 901 Main St., on the banks of the river, was opened in December 2006. It offers more than 7,000 square feet of space and provides computer labs, art, games, pool and weekly lunches. Most of the programs provided are free or at a minimal cost.
Each week, Brewster said, 80 to 100 people come to the center for activities.
"I think we have made a real difference in a lot of people's lives," Brewster said. "We have health promotional programs and do blood pressure check every other week. The pool room is a hot spot -- it goes all the time. It has been a real good thing for us. We had nothing for the men to do in the old building, but now they get involved. We have entertainment and educational programs about consumer credit and scams. This is a central place for seniors to get information."
The senior center also provides transportation once a week on Tuesdays to doctor appointments in Knoxville and trips to Walmart for groceries and goods. Homemaker services are offered in certain cases through the Office on Aging.
"With retirement-age people living longer, there is more demand for services for seniors," Brewster said.
The city of Loudon donated the property for the center, and the $1.2 million facility was built through funding provided by Loudon County Commission. The programs are partially funded through the federal Office on Aging. The center receives some funding from the state, Loudon County and United Way of Loudon County.
Williams, former activities director, was named director Wednesday by Mayor Estelle Herron.
"Gail has been with the center 30 years," Brewster said. "She will do a great job."
Williams said Brewster will be missed.
"She has been a wonderful boss and compassionate to the staff and seniors. She loves her job," Williams said.
The challenges will continue in the future, Williams said. "There will be more baby boomers coming in and activities will have to change," she said.
Donna Altavater, who directed transportation, will become the new activities director. Jennie Broyles will assume transportation duties, and Brenda Key will be the part-time homemaker.