For 45 years, seniors have gathered in the basement of St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church every Wednesday (except during the Minnesota State Fair) to share lunch, exercise, make crafts and socialize.
Members of the St. Anthony Park Leisure Center toasted the group’s 45th anniversary on June 17. Many of the seniors who participate in the Wednesday activities today are the children of the people who started the group in 1970.
Nancy Wenkel of Falcon Heights has been involved in the center since she was a teen. Her father, who was a member of the Methodist church, encouraged her to attend and work with seniors on some of the crafts. She’s still working on crafts with her fellow seniors. The group holds a bazaar at Thanksgiving to help support some of the Leisure Center’s activities.
The Leisure Center was organized by five area churches: St. Anthony Park United Methodist, St. Anthony Park Lutheran, Corpus Christi Catholic, St. Matthew’s Episcopal and St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ. Despite its affiliation with the churches, no church membership is required to participate and there are no membership dues.
Wednesdays at the church begin at 9 a.m. with coffee and tables set up for crafting or cards. Some members come to the exercise class run by St. Anthony Park Area Seniors from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. A blood pressure clinic is held from 11 a.m. to noon, and then there’s lunch.
Mary Markgraf has been cooking the weekly lunches for the last five years. She learned about the group through her mother, who was a frequent participant.
“She met so many wonderful people who connected us to the neighborhood,” she said.
The center offers a meal each week for $6. Reservations are required. Call Markgraf at 651-415- 0527 to leave a reservation on her answering machine.
You don’t have to be a senior to participate in the lunches, says Mark Chapple, who learned about the Leisure Center during his career as a vice president at Park Midway Bank (now Sunrise banks).
“I remember when it started,” he said. “I’d see everyone walking by the bank down to the church for lunch.” He soon learned how good the lunches were and began frequenting them.
Chapple now serves as vice president of the Leisure Center’s board. The Leisure Center hosts special holiday lunches. St. Patrick’s Day includes corned beef and cabbage and live Irish music, and the week before the center shuts down for the State Fair, Markgraf serves a State Fair lunch complete with pronto pups, Sweet Martha cookies and a few other things that may or may not come on a stick.
In August, the Leisure Center will be the honored organization at Park Perks, the coffee bar at Sunrise Bank on Como Avenue. Proceeds from the coffee sold through the month will go toward the Leisure Center.
The center invites area seniors to join in. As the group’s brochure says, “The coffee pot is always on.”