The Johnston Senior Center is a focal point of town operations and one of the most active centers of its kind in the state. That is thanks, in part, to Anne Baccari.
“She is a founding member. Anne goes way back to when the Senior Center was located in a garage on Priscilla Lane,” explained Mayor Joseph Polisena, who paid a visit to Baccari’s home recently to recognize her for “yet another milestone.”
Polisena presented Baccari with an official town of Johnston proclamation in honor of her 90th birthday.
The celebration, attended by family and friends, brought back memories for Baccari. She and the mayor reminisced about the days when the Johnston Senior Center came into being.
“The building was located off Atwood Avenue across from St. Rocco’s Church,” Baccari recalled. “It was a little building with a dirt floor that the town owned. We cleaned it up and with help from the Department of Elderly Affairs, we got things started.”
Baccari said the town could not have been successful without Anna Tucker, who was then the director of elderly affairs in the state. Likewise, Al Cardente and Mary Cerra, who remains active in the town, were among the first organizers. Cardente was the first executive director and Cerra was, like Baccari, a founding member of the Board of Directors.
The former JSC opened in 1982. However, in order to be an official and recognized senior center, the facility had to be a meal site and deliver meals. They got involved with Meals on Wheels, with the center serving as a base camp for local deliveries.
“People also came in for meals and we had different programs. Once a month we’d celebrate anniversaries and birthdays ... but the main thing was that we were a meal site,” Baccari said.
As the months rolled on, events like bingo and parties became more regular at the center.
“We made it the place to go,” she said.
Bacarri, who was born on Oct. 13, 1922, remembers those early days fondly.
“I loved my little senior center,” she said. “I love the new one, too. But I love that one just as much.”
The early senior center was a labor of love for volunteers and board members like Baccari and Cerra. They had to borrow tables and chairs, putting together a makeshift meeting place before funds became available to upgrade facilities.
“We were a group,” said Baccari. “Mary organized a lot of fundraisers ... we had good times at the old center. My fondest memories are of that old place. It was wonderful having a place for seniors to come and it was fun delivering meals to people who needed them.”
As time went on, that group raised enough money to purchase a van.
At one point, in fact, the town had given the budding center a place off Atwood Avenue for a new facility. Baccari and company hired an architect who drew up plans when Noella Barber replaced Cardente as the executive director, but the cost of a new center was prohibitive.
That dream center turned out to be not far away on the horizon. The town built the current facility on Hartford Avenue and Baccari joined the board once again. Even though her husband was ill at the time, she kept working for the JSC.
“The new [JSC] is gorgeous,” Baccari said. “It was exciting watching the center grow.”
The JSC library, Baccari proudly noted, is named in honor of her late husband, John Baccari.
“The senior center is very important to me,” said Baccari, who was born in Johnston and moved to Providence as a toddler. “I’ve been here for over 50 years and I love this town.”
Polisena said the town is lucky to have her.
“Anne has done lots of things in her life. She has been a bookkeeper, Girl Scout leader, board member of the Alzheimer’s Center ... she always kept busy helping many, many organizations,” he said. “It’s an honor for me to be here today honoring Anne Baccari, a volunteer extraordinaire who has played a large part in the rich history of out town.”