by Cori Hilsgen
Many Sartell seniors don’t have a lot of time to sit around wondering what to do with their time. They are some of the busiest people in the area, volunteering many hours with the Sartell-St. Stephen School District, Community Education, Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce and much more.
These seniors are part of the Sartell Senior Connection, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and continues to be a strong and influential group of involved seniors.
A few people commented on their involvement with the group but were sure to mention there are many other people who have been very involved with the Senior Connection.
Ann Doyscher-Domres remembers being a part of a group of local businesses and the Central Minnesota Council on Aging, which held a town forum Nov. 14, 2007 called “Building a Senior-Friendly Community.”
About 70 people attended the meeting at Sartell City Hall.
Since then, Sartell Senior Connection volunteers have contributed many hours to the city.
Seniors have adopted families at Christmas, raised money for a Guatemalan stove project, provided free speakers on many interesting topics, sponsored Mike Lynch of WCCO radio to do his Star Watch party, donated many books and materials to the new Sartell Resource Center, provided brunch to veterans and their guests on Veterans Day and much more.
The Sartell Senior Connection welcomes all ages and there are no requirements to belong to the group. You do not need to be a Sartell resident to participate.
Doyscher-Domres said a favorite saying of members of the Sartell Senior Connection is it “does not check IDs at the door.”
Maggie Kraemer has been a Sartell Senior Connection board member since May 2014. She and her husband, Gary, moved from Worthington to Sartell in July 2012.
She said they chose Sartell because of its proximity to the Twin Cities and hunting/fishing options in the Grand Rapids area.
Kraemer said she believes in a three-year commitment to an organization/project. During the first year you don’t know much, the second year you know what’s going on and during the third year, you assume a leadership role. She shared that concept with board members and in the third year, she became a chairperson.
Kraemer said seniors greatly appreciate their new space at the Sartell Community Center. Their goal is to increase the number and variety of activities offered, including a monthly “big bang” event that is multi-generational during this first year. Those include the Star Watch party with Lynch in October, the Veterans Day brunch in November, a potluck lunch and “Fun Singers” concert in December, a puzzle day in celebration of National Puzzle Day (exchange puzzles and completion competition) in January, maybe a “Big Game” (football) party in February and more.
Kraemer said they realize they need to schedule activities in the evenings because they want to attract a younger crowd in the 55- to 65-year age group.
“We do not have an age restriction, nor do we have membership dues,” she said. “All are welcome.”
Gayle Smoley is the lead librarian for the sharing library located at the Sartell Community Center and coordinates a group of volunteers.
The library was developed through donations and was previously located at the District Service Center.
In May 2017, the Senior Connection helped the LeSauk Lions collect additional books for adults and started creating a collection of children’s books.
Smoley has been involved with the Senior Connection for three years. She was the Sartell-St. Stephen School District Early Childhood Family Education program director. Members of the Senior Connection often helped at special events.
She said she tried to attend the speakers about traveling, some Coffee and Conversation events, the Fun Singers and even some trivia nights. Last year, she was asked to be in charge of the library.
Smoley said she found a good friend, Jeanne Woodward, to help her. The library was moved to the Community Center in August. Smoley organizes volunteers to help with the weekly book-shelving, which takes a majority of her time with the Senior Connection.
“I have been in charge of the library with a wonderful, hard-working committee for two years,” Smoley said.
She said the move to the new Community Center was a challenge. Books had to all be packed from the old library located in the District Service Center, unpacked and set up in the new library. They also had to be sorted, all donations were organized and everything was alphabetized.
Smoley said Sartell is a generous community. All books were donated by people in the area except for 3,000 children’s books which were donated by the LeSauk Lions. They had a book drop last year where people dropped off books at Sartell City Hall. They received more than 20 boxes of books.
“Our library is a sharing library for a sharing community,” she said.
Volunteers continue to organize and sort donations, shelve books daily in alphabetical order, organize the shelves, add new items and keep improving the library. They will soon get new shelving and a book cart.
“I love the library,” Smoley said. “We have needed one in Sartell for a long time. The access to the Great River Regional Library is perfect. It’s so easy to order a book online and just pick it up at the Community Center Library (drop-off locker system).”
She said the Great River Regional Library driver who delivers and picks up books has needed to increase his trips to the Sartell locker system from once each week to three times weekly.
Smoley said the Community Center Resource Center is a beautiful place with a super collection of books – a place to sit and read in front of a fire with a beautiful view.
Many times when she arrives to work in the library, she will see a parent sitting with his or her children and reading.
“I love it,” Smoley said.
A Holiday Story Hour was recently held at the resource center, and organizers hope to plan more future events.
She said the Senior Connection provides many ways for seniors to get involved in the area, meet others, volunteer and have fun with cards, trivia, great speakers and more.
Currently, the Sartell Senior Connection’s newsletter is mailed to more than 700 seniors in the area. Attendees at events range from about 20 people for Coffee and Conversation to about 300 people for its annual Lemonade and Laughter event held in May.
The Sartell Senior Connection has a volunteer board that meets monthly to plan and organize events and programs. New programs and activities are continuously added.
The group has grown from that first meeting to monthly meetings with a speaker on various topics, monthly trivia, weekly coffee and weekly card games such as cribbage and 500.
Doyscher-Domres, who has lived in Sartell since 1998, has been a program coordinator with the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education for 10 years. She has also coached junior varsity tennis at the ROCORI School District for three years.
Doyscher-Domres is married to Wade Domres, who is an engineer for the DeZurik Co. They have two children. Sam Wacha is married to Jessi and they have a yellow lab, Chewy. Emily is in 10th grade at Sartell High School.
Doyscher-Domres has been involved with the Sartell Jaycees, Rotary, Sartell SummerFest, the annual American Legion Memorial Day service and the Sartell Music Association.
Kraemer also auditions readers for Central Minnesota Readers for the Visually Impaired at St. Cloud State University’s KVSC radio studio. She was an elementary librarian in Wells and a media generalist in Worthington before moving to Sartell.
Smoley has lived with her husband, Bill, in Sartell since 1974. She grew up walking to the old Carnegie Library in St. Cloud and said she loves libraries and book stores. Smoley taught for 44 years, 25 of those were with the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.
For additional information, visit the sartellseniorconnection.com website. The site includes the group’s newsletter that lists regular activities.
Author: Cori Hilsgen
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.