As Written by Audrey Pickell (Past Treasurer).
Harry Dracas had resided in Summerland for many years when he came to realize that it was a lovely place to live, but wasn’t doing much for seniors. His concern took him to Victoria more than once. In fact he became a seniors’ councillor for Summerland, appointed by the BC government in the early 1960’s.
Harry and hid wife Ida took this appointment very seriously, and set out to talk to every Summerland senior they could find. Harry listened, and Ida never went empty handed- usually taking some fresh baking powder biscuits, home made jam or buns. Harry learned that there was not much for seniors to do here, especially in the winter. They needed a place to get together, to have a social life.
After consulting with the BC government, Harry was awarded the large sum of $200to start a seniors’ drop-in centre. The I.O.O.F. Hall was rented for $50 per month, local business donated equipment, and the Centre opened on 3rd February, 1969.
Membership was $1 per month. Seniors in Summerland gathered for crib, Crokinole, conversation and coffee. Members took turns at the coffee counter and the ladies always made sure there was a cake. Since there were no steps at the entrance, the hall was ideal for persons with handicaps, and the membership just kept on growing.
Dances were held. A carpet bowling set and table shuffleboard were purchased. Eventually a bingo licence was obtained. But the rent kept going up and with new members joining all the time….the Drop-In Centre had run out of room.
By 1975, the executive, under president Vern Oakes, decided something had to be done. After much consultation, the Summerland Council offered the group a piece of land to build on, at the nominal rent of $100 per year. The Group had lots of enthusiasm but only about $7,000 in the kitty. With the influence of Bernie Hume- Smith, and Yvonne Storey, who had friends in high places, a grant was actually obtained from the NDP government. On December, 1976, the cheque was presented by Dave Barrett, premier, with Yvonne Storey and our own mayor Ken Boothe, on hand. It was a great day. After tea we went to the building site on Brown Street. Dave Barrett turned the sod, assisted bt two Drop-In members—Mrs Alice Lawrence and Mrs Ellen Porter. Both these ladies were in their 90’s.
We had to get to work in earnest. A Ladies Auxiliary was formed. We obtained a second bingo licence. We had teas, raffles, dances, flea markets. Bernie helped us plan, and the ladies made sure that the kitchen was adequate- in fact it is still the best one in town!
Bernie put his life on hold and became our building manager at the large sum of $500 per month. He not only worked hard on the site, but he also twisted arms and got discounts on purchases, a few hours free work from this union or that, even when local people who were not seniors. Our new president, Bill Eyre, carried on what Vern Oakes had started. Everyone worked together. Our members had many different professions, including electricians, carpenters, painters, even a surveyor. This came in very handy, so we only hired workers for what we couldn’t do ourselves. And the Summerland people are great- always ready to help on a project for the community- and the donations kept rolling in. It is impossible to give names- there are just too many- but a plaque at the Centre gives them all. We couldn’t have done it without them.
On 5th August 1976, as we trekked from the I.O.O.F. Hall to our new home, the light rain did not dampen our spirits at all. Taking part in the opening ceremony were mayor Booth, George Whittaker MP, and our own Bernie Hume-Smith, Bill Eyre and van Oakes. Helene Scott of Penticton sang “Bless this House” as the Summerland Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre building was dedicated.
We also had to raise some extra money to finish paying the bills, but eventually made it, and a little over a year later burned the mortgage. I was the treasurer during the building of the centre, and for many years after… I had to see that every cent possible was raised, but also had to have the right amount of ready cash on hand to pay the bills every month. The building cost was around 4135,000, but on completion was valued at $250,000, thanks to the many hard workers, too numerous to mention, but very wonderful people. We couldn’t have done it without you.
On 21st April, 1992, Life memberships were awarded to Bernie Hume-Smith, Vern Holmes, Bill Eyre, Al Johnson and Audrey Pickell fort services to the Drop-In Centre during the building years.
It was a major effort, and there were so many to thank. Dreams can be realized when people work together. Today a larger umber of people mare enjoying what we worked so hard to build.
A few years ago, the land was finally purchased from the Municipality making it entirely our own. Summerland is a place that can do anything if it feels it is worthwhile. Thank you all for helping us to realize our dream.
Let’s keep that dream going.
Sean F McCarthy – President