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March 1996

Young In Mind And Spirit

 

by Kim Ruiz BALCERZAK

It’s no secret that childhood memories - some fond, others vivid, but all very powerful - have a tremendous influence on our actions as adults.

For Cleta Nunn, Director of Senior Affairs for the City of Buffalo, images of retired older neighbors sitting on a porch, rocking in a chair and watching the world pass by is one of the reasons she and her co-workers work so diligently to provide services that help area seniors remain healthy and active.

“I went home to Oklahoma after my father passed away and took time out to visit with old friends and neighbors,” Nunn recalled. “I walked up to this beautiful octagon-shaped house that had loomed larger than life to me as a child, but now seemed smaller.”

“An older gentleman was sitting on the front porch. As I said ‘hello,’ that man looked up at me with a big smile and called to his wife, saying ‘Honey, Cleta’s here.’ That left a big impression on me. For him, time had stood still, as if I were still a child.”

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Cleta shares a moment with her daughters.

“Years after I had left, my retired neighbors were doing the same things that had occupied their lives when I was young -sitting, rocking and chatting -because there were few opportunities for them to stay active. I learned at a very young age that activity was the key to long and fulfilling lives for seniors.”

Cleta Nunn took that message to heart. Today, you won’t find any grass growing beneath hers or area seniors’ shoes.

A spry 69, Nunn oversees Buffalo’s nine senior centers that provide social, recreational and wellness services for an estimated 63,000 persons.

On any given day, seniors can be found participating in arts and crafts classes, billiards, bingo, card parties, defensive driving courses, dance classes, exercise and weight loss programs, and more.

Nunn often leads excursions to see plays in Toronto or the sights and sounds of Atlantic City and trips to the Poconos and New York City, to name a few.

Birthdays, anniversaries and holiday celebrations are special happenings at each center, whose members and staff are often as close as family.

“All of us at the centers - staff, members and the community - work very hard to make each facility a friendly, warm and caring place,” Nunn explained. “It’s really a team effort. No one person does it alone. And, because the members and the community take such an interest and pride in the centers, we’re able to offer interesting programs and services and be, in essence, a home away from home.”

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The crowning of the senior king and queen at a Buffalo senior center event.

This sense of family is the basis behind all of Cleta Nunn’s actions. Her four children, all Western New Yorkers, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren are the focal part of her life.  “Family is the ultimate connection,” she said. “They are my life. I wish everyone could share a family relationship like the one I have and experience the love and devotion that my family gives to me. I believe that if you’re happy and secure in your family, you can help others and bring them the family-like happiness you enjoy.”

Nunn grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma in the post-depression era when families needed to be strong to survive. She credits the strength and discipline learned as a child for preparing her for the world today.  “I was raised on a farm,” she said. “One of my chores was to wake up at 4 a.m., milk the cows and run the liquid through a separating machine. Once that was done, I had to dismantle the machine, clean and disinfect the parts and re-assemble it - all before breakfast and the morning school bell.”

“My father was a country doctor. Back then, we didn’t have much. No one did because money was scarce. Everything you lived on came from the land. In fact, my father often got paid for his services in trade - chickens, livestock and fruits of the land.”  “My mother, who was an angel, was the strongest person I knew. She was the backbone of the family. My grandfather was a country doctor, too. He ran the local drug store which had an ice cream/soda fountain counter.”

Cleta Nunn came to Western New York in the 1950s. Her varied career accomplishments include serving as a commercial radio announcer, a wholesale foods manager, working at the Buffalo International Airport and serving as co-host of the popular Buffalo senior television program, Aging Is For Everyone.

In 1971 she began her public service career with the Erie County Health Department.

Nunn joined Buffalo’s senior services division in 1977 at the Holling Senior Center and was promoted to Director of the Schiller Park Senior Center in 1980.

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A Family Affair . . . Cleta Nunn (bottom right) sits with granddaughter Andrea as her children Rusty, Dan, Norma and Laura (standing, from left) look on.

She and her co-workers spent 13 years transforming an empty building into a vital senior center with over 54 programs and 7,000 card-carrying members. They also organized and supervised a $1.5 million expansion of the center.

After a short stay as Director of the Tosh Collins Senior Center, Nunn was tapped by the Masiello administration as Director of Senior Affairs for the entire city of Buffalo.   “I would not be where I am today, if it wasn’t for the support of the people in my life,” she said. “My zest for living, helping others and accomplishing what I do is because of the people I’ve worked with and their cooperation as a team.” That work continues. A recent addition to center offerings is Golden Years 2000+, a special wellness program run jointly by the centers and the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo.

According to Nunn, each center is developing a wellness club to promote healthy living and increased physical activity among seniors. Centers will have access to new exercise equipment such as stationary bicycles, treadmills, hand weights and exercise mats.

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Cleta tries the new exercise equipment a Buffalo senior center, part of the new wellness clubs and Golden Age 2000+. Photos by Don Heupel.

The Wellness Institute will provide staff support to each wellness club.

Nunn added that senior centers may not be for everyone.

“Senior centers are for people who have the need to socialize and work with others,” she explained. “There are countless other ways a person can spend their time, such as volunteering in a hospital, serving as an instructor or working part-time.”

“The most important thing is not to sit down and do nothing. Everyone must continue to grow and experience new and exciting things to help keep your mind sharp. That is what the senior centers are all about - staying healthy and remaining young in mind and spirit.”

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Going my way ... Cleta Nunn leads a senior center member excursion.

That’s good advice that Nunn follows every day. In fact, she’ll be re-joining the Aging Is For Everyone program this spring, helping to develop and enhance the program’s content.

Kim Ruiz Balcerzak is Managing Editor of Living Prime Time.
Family and senior center program photos courtesy of the City of Buffalo Office for Senior Affairs.

 

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