Senior Lifestyles

Los Altos Senior Program Past, present and future: Speakers and members pay tribute to rich legacy

Photos Mary Larsen/Town Crier
Los Altos Recreation Coordinator Cheri Anderson, above with longtime Senior Program member Stan Ferris, organized a panel touting the program’s history featuring Paul Gonella, King Lear and Ferris.

The Los Altos Senior Program continued its 40th anniversary celebration with a speaker panel Feb. 16. Panelists King Lear, Paul Gonella and Stan Ferris discussed their experiences with the program over the years, and several audience members offered personal reflections.

After an introduction by Los Altos Recreation Coordinator Cheri Anderson, co-worker Barbara Wilmoth treated the group to a slide show of past members and events. The photographs documented a variety of celebrations, luncheons and barbecues, as well as offered glimpses of some of the program’s many activities, including bocce ball, ArtVentures, exercise classes, the Monkey Toy Ladies and excursions. Several in the audience were pleased to see pictures of members no longer with them.

“We’re preserving history by putting the photos on a flash drive to have forever,” Anderson said.

‘On the right track’

The first speaker, former Los Altos Mayor King Lear, got involved with the Senior Program when he was elected to the city council in 1997. He said the council conducted surveys and looked at a variety of other senior centers in an attempt to discover what would work for Los Altos.

Lear noted with a chuckle that even though he was not an active participant in the Senior Center, he would “take responsibility for the bocce ball courts,” which have proven very popular. He described bocce ball as “an easy but fun activity for everyone.”

Gonella of Los Altos Legacies was up next. He explained that prior to 1998, the Senior Center was run as an independent organization. The city of Los Altos took over in 1998 and eventually put the program under the leadership of the Recreation Department. A nonprofit corporation that eventually became Los Altos Legacies was formed to advise the center. Los Altos Legacies is run as an endowment, and donations to the group are tax deductible. All funds are used for senior activities in the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills area.

Many of the essentials in the current Los Altos Senior Program were purchased with money from Los Altos Legacies, Gonella said. According to its website, Los Altos Legacies has provided funds for facilities renovation, helping to convert the activity director role from a part- to full-time position, upgrading recreational facilities and subsidizing popular activities.

Gonella thinks the Senior Program is “on the right track” with the important services it offers – such as blood pressure checks, individual case management studies, tax services and the Vega volunteers who provide minor home services and repairs – as well as the many activities.

“Now we’re keeping the good people we hire,” he said, adding that with people like Anderson on board, “the quality of employees is higher.”

‘Someplace you enjoy’

Ferris spoke as a member of the program. He explained that he first became acquainted with the center in the ’80s, when he brought his father-in-law to get his taxes done. Ferris said that at the time, he refused to acknowledge that he himself was a senior. After a medical challenge, however, he decided to get involved and joined the program’s Foreign Affairs class.

“When you get older, you lose friends and need to go someplace you enjoy,” he said.

Through activities like the Men’s Group and the Foreign Affairs class, Ferris said he made lasting friends he “wouldn’t have made staying home and watching TV.”

“Join it, or keep coming,” he advised. “You can’t replace it anyplace else.”

Audience members shared their personal experiences and recollections.

K. Gabrielle Tiemann, member of both the Senior Program and Los Altos Legacies, said her mother and aunt used to come to the center, and her aunt had been one of the Monkey Toy Ladies. When Tiemann retired in 2007, her first trip was to the Social Security office, and her second was to the Senior Center, though she admitted that she didn’t think it was a fit for her at the time. When former Recreation Coordinator Candace Avina arrived, however, improvements were made and Tiemann began to volunteer. She said she was excited when Anderson came on board.

‘It’s not the what, but the who’

“Tell everybody you know, we do have a very nice Senior Center,” Tiemann told the group, even though it may not look like the ones in Mountain View and elsewhere.

Lear agreed, adding, “It’s not the what, but the who.”

Member Rick Coccari said he enjoyed the Foreign Affairs class, with the differing opinions and lively discussions. He also attends the Men’s Group the first and third Thursdays of the month.

“It keeps us young, mentally and physically,” he said. “It makes life fuller.”

P.N. Venkatachalam, from the “Senior Center South” – the Grant Park outpost – said he and his wife were both appreciative members. He is also a participant in the popular Foreign Affairs class.

“The intellectual stimulation you get from the class is unbelievable,” he said. “There are people from all over the world – it’s great.”

For more information on the Los Altos Senior Program, including upcoming events honoring its 40th anniversary, call 947-2797, visit or stop by the center at 97 Hillview Ave., Room 10.

Los Altos Legacies meets 10 a.m. the first Wednesday of the month in March, June, September and December at Neutra House, 183 Hillview Ave. Meetings are open to the public. For more information, visit

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