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Strang Center reopens to fanfare

Knox County public officials joined scores of seniors for the grand re-opening of the Frank R. Strang Senior Center last Wednesday, Nov. 17.

The center had been closed for eight months for major renovations that included doubling its square footage. Seniors were invited to tour their new facility and munch on finger foods to a backdrop of live music by The Prospectors.

Festivities began in the enlarged multipurpose room. Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale greeted a standing-room-only crowd of seniors and introduced attending colleagues including Knox County Commissioners Craig Leuthold, Mike Hammond, John Griess and Mary Lou Horner.

Ragsdale explained how he first heard the idea of turning the former Farragut library into a senior center at a lunch meeting. He was not immediately convinced, but said the group “had a lot of perseverance, they kept plugging away.”

The process, he said, represented the best of American government working with public citizens to make things happen. “This is some of the best tax dollars we could ever spend,” Ragsdale said of the center changes. Renovations on the Strang Center cost about $600,000.

More than 20 senior groups utilize the space including a tai chi group, which demonstrated floor exercises after Ragsdale’s remarks.

During the renovation, instructor Don McGee taught the martial arts class at the Farragut YMCA. “It’s good to be back here,” he said. The new and improved multipurpose room will provide the group ample space and a quiet environment to exercise. Additional new features include a second kitchen, new offices and furniture, and new meeting and card rooms.

Dee Dickenson worked at Strang before the renovation. “I hardly knew where I was when I walked in. It’s that different,” she said. “It was wonderful back then but it’s better now.”

Lauren Monahan, Strang’s director, said the center serves about 500 active seniors and has a mailing list of more than 4,000. Strang’s newest group, a Red Hat Society chapter, has about 70 members, some of which attended the opening wearing a signature red hat.

Reuben and Alice McCord were two of the seniors dancing to the live music at the event. Alice said the couple is looking forward to future dancing events at Strang. Elden and Nortrud DePorter agreed. “We hope to have dances here,” Nortrud said. “We love to dance.”

Lee Hoke has taught computer classes at Strang for five years and also teaches digital photography and printing. “The new center is fabulous,” he said, “better than I imagined.”

Doris Marsh said, “It’s beautiful. I couldn’t imagine them making it better.”

“It seems like they’ve taken into account most of the needs of seniors,” Johnson said. Newly retired, Johnson hopes to take some Spanish and computer classes at Strang.

Tim Zárate has frequented Strang since moving to Knoxville four years ago. “We come here and have a ball. It’s a great place to be; the people are nice. We have more friends here than where we used to live for many years.”

Such friendships were formed at the opening. Eleanor Gibson and Gladys Rice met on Strang’s new front patio and began chatting. Rice is a new Red Hat Society member and Gibson is considering joining.

Sybil Joffee remembers the former Farragut Library and has been coming to Strang since it first opened. She said, “they took a little rickety building and made it something modern and charming.”

Cynthia Finch, senior director of community services for Knox County, is also proud of the new center. “We have a group of spirited people and we wanted the building to reflect that.”

Cockrill Design and Planning was the firm behind Strang’s facelift. Architect Margaret Butler said, “We designed the building to be very open with lots of light; they can open the doors and have picnics and barbecues on the patio or front lawn.” She added, “We wanted the facility to be a fun and inviting place and to project that into the community.”

Butler visited Strang a day after the opening and was pleased to find the building filled and being used to capacity. “There were only two parking spaces left in the lot,” she said.

For information about Strang’s programs, call the Center at 670-6693.

Karen Hamilton contributed to this story.


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