There’s never a dull moment at the Johnston Senior Center, a vibrant community that draws upwards of 250 people per day. This past Monday was no different.
Directory Tony Zompa, Assistant Director Millie Santilli and scores of friends celebrated Orlando Ricci’s 104th birthday. Ricci is a World War II veteran and has been on the Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
They wheeled out a cake with one candle – though they joked about trying to get 104 of them – and sang to Ricci, who was wearing a shirt proudly proclaiming “I am 104.” He was also given birthday cards signed by members of the Senior Center community.
“He’s a wonder,” Zompa said. “God bless him.”
It was just one of many events hosted by the Johnston Senior Center, which Santilli and Zompa said has quite a bit going on over just the next few months alone.
Santilli and Zompa, along with center coordinator Denise Bell and program coordinator Ellen Trementozzi, sat down with the Sun Rise on Monday to talk about what’s coming up inside and outside the center’s busy halls.
“Every single week there’s something major happening, without a doubt,” Zompa said.
The highest-profile happening in the near future, Santilli said, is the upcoming Saturday Night “Doo Wop” Dance on June 1 at 6 p.m. The dance will feature Classic Blend performing renditions of hit songs from the ’50s and ’60s. There will also be light fare, beer, wine and raffles offered to guests, and tickets go on sale May 17 for $25.
“The dance is important to us, and what goes into the dance is getting the entertainment and picking out the right entertainment for that particular year we want to do this,” Santilli said. “I go out and get all of the sponsorships so that everything is free to us … so everything we make on the dance is profit for us. And that becomes a big fundraiser.”
Before that, though, some members are embarking on a trip to Iceland. Santilli said JSC has traveled the globe, with Ireland, Sicily, England and Paris as some of the previous destinations. Zompa gave the scoop on a potential location for next year – Portugal, with a visit to the Riviera and the Azores – but that meeting will take place in June.
When asked why Iceland was chosen for this year’s trek, Zompa simply said, “It’s a hot item.”
Trementozzi is in charge of planning the trips, and this past Tuesday some members departed for Atlantic City. A bigger trip is set for the middle of June, as JSC will take on Niagara Falls.
Santilli said there is also a wine and painting night scheduled for April 30, for which the Town Council just approved the liquor license during Monday’s meeting.
They’ll need the rest and relaxation, too, because soon some JSC athletes will be shifting into competition mode with the start of bocce season. If the weather held, they were scheduled to head out to the court for the first time this season on Tuesday.
Santilli said there is quite a bit of participation in bocce at the center, and they are even working to set up a rivalry match with the Smithfield Senior Center. There could be even greater partnerships in store as well.
“We’re also trying to link up with Citizens Bank in the new complex because they’ve got a bocce court there, and we’re trying to find out if we can go use their court once in a while so we can get from here to there,” Zompa said. “Then if we’ve got a team, maybe we would make a little challenge.”
They take bocce seriously at JSC. Zompa noted that, at the Senior Olympics in Cranston last year, JSC swept the top three categories.
Santilli and Zompa briefly dove into some of the other events coming up – such as the Mother’s Day luncheon and the Nifty 90s dance in June – but there was little time to spare. They had to get over to Ricci’s birthday celebration, which he enjoyed with an ear-to-ear smile.
Santilli and Zompa stood right next to Ricci as he blew out the candle, chatting with him for a bit afterward as well. It only took a few minutes, but the appreciation Ricci and those in attendance showed was just another example of how the hard work is all worth it.
“It’s very gratifying, especially for Tony and myself, because we built this building,” Santilli said of hearing praise about JSC. “We actually picked every single item out for this several years ago. Just had our 11-year [anniversary]. We were in here leveling the whole thing, and deciding where and when everything was going to go.”
She said the JSC is their “baby,” and that dedication is recognized by members who have stuck with the center since its days on Priscilla Lane.
“For all of us, this is a big deal, and that is why we continue to take a lot of pride and want to keep everything run the way that it’s run and strive for it to run better,” Santilli said. “A lot of the people that were with us then, are still with us now.”