Rogene Smith sat in front of a piano in the back of the Blackburn-Dennis Community Center Tuesday.
For a moment, she wondered if she still could tickle the ivories. A friend held a music sheet in place. About five notes into the famous Christmas carol “Silent Night”, it all came back to her. She was playing the tune seamlessly.
The 87-year-old has lived in Fowler her entire life and her friends said she knows just about everyone.
“Well, all the people that live here,” she said in a soft voice, drawing laughs from the others at the center.
The group was gathered at the community center, which some call a staple in the small town.
The center is housed in a 117-year-old building that originally was a livery stable. In 1920, it was purchased by the American Legion Post to be remodeled and used as a community center.
The facility was remodeled and updated from 1999 to 2004. It was given to the community by the American Legion and was renamed.
Loretta Vickers, president of the center, said a board of eight members operates the center.
“We are basically here to feed the people. We are nonprofit and only work on donations,” Vickers said.
“No one gets paid. Everyone is a volunteer, including the cook, who also is my daughter, Cheri (Silcocks).”
Silcocks was preparing lunch Tuesday, slicing up lettuce and stirring sauce in a giant pot on a stove.
The center asks for a $3 donation for people 55 years old and older. They ask for a $5 donation for anyone under 55 years old. The center serves lunch Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“We have really great people that come in and donate to the center. It’s a community effort. We live off of donations,” Vickers said.
The center also holds potluck dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
This year, about 70 people from Fowler, Olney Springs, Manzanola and the surrounding area attended the Christmas Potluck.
“We try to do fundraisers here once a month. We serve everything here. The favorite meal is the meatloaf,” Vickers said with a laugh. “That’s their favorite.”
The center also delivers meals to community members.
“We have a lot of people that come out for our potlucks and Christmas dinners,” Vickers said.
The main thrust behind why Vickers and other volunteers put on events is simple.
“We just enjoy it. I enjoy serving the people. I bet about 90 percent of our people are elderly. Most of them can’t or won’t go home and cook. We love having them here,” Vickers said.
Some community members come in for the fellowship.
The center also has a variety of activities, including sewing and exercise classes.
“We exercise on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10 a.m. In fact, we just finished up,” Vickers said.
“It’s all basically senior-oriented, but we still pump iron," she added pointing to a shelf full of small dumbbells.
“It’s for everybody.”
Vickers said during the summer local students volunteer at the center. Two high school students who are home-schooled help at the center.
About 40 people are fed a day in a community that has a population of a little more than 1,000 people.
“Forty people is a lot here,” Vickers said.
The building also has been home to a skating rink and a shooting range.
The back wall cannot be penetrated.
“That’s because it used to be a shooting range. We can’t even get a drill through the wall,” Vickers said.
The center has a billiards room and an old-fashioned pinball machine from the 1960s.
Small tables are scattered on top of a hardwood floor. The kitchen sits in the back right-hand side of the facility. A sign that reads “Welcome” guides visitors to it.
There are military relics on the walls and on top of shelves, including photos of soldiers and folded American flags.
Smith, who was a waitress in town for more than 30 years, said, “I love my hometown. There’s nothing like it.
“We have a good time here at this community center. I really enjoy time here,” she said with pride in her voice.
To donate to the center, call 719-469-4938 or visit the facility at 208 6th Street in Fowler.