2013 Community Close-Up
5:43 am
Tue September 17, 2013

Socializing Comes Easy For Polo Senior Citizens

We continue our series "Community Close-Up" in a town known for its sense of adventure. The founder of Polo named it after Venetian explorer Marco Polo.  Today, the rural city of 2500 holds onto a strong bank of memories, thanks to longtime residents.

On a recent Tuesday, a dozen women gather for an hour-long exercise class inside the Polo Senior Center. They start with sitting exercises and bounce foam balls off of their knees.

Fit For Life Exercise Class at the Polo Senior Center
Fit For Life Exercise Class at the Polo Senior Center
Credit Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

The Fit For Life class is for anyone who may have gone through surgery recently and wants to improve balance and strength. It's also a time for Joyce Folkers to meet with friends twice a week.

"It's a place for people to come to that maybe are alone. You just get together and talk and visit and forget your own troubles." - Joyce Folkers, Polo

The Senior Center hosts many events each week from Bingo to grief-support groups. An estimated 8,000 people walk through its doors each year. That's according to Director Barbara Burke.

"The ‘senior’ part of our name throws us off a little bit. It's sometimes like a senior/joint community center, Burke said. "We offer the senior health insurance program. We offer flu shots. This is a polling place. We also offer tax assistance. There's just so many different things involved in this senior center. People think it's just day-to-day, and they just come and sit down and drink coffee. They don't realize all of the resources we build around."

She says the organization also raises money by renting out the space for reunions and parties.

Repairs Needed

Raising money has become more of a focus for the senior center these days. The building is located in the heart of Polo's downtown. It's an early 20th-century brick building. But time has taken its toll on this building.

A contractor has been doing some exterior maintenance to fix loose bricks to keep them from falling and harming passers-by.

Inside, the situation is worse. The roof is in disrepair, and water leaks into the pantry. 

The senior center has had to turn to private donors to help pay for the roof. Nearly $60,000 has been raised for the project, and there's plenty of work ahead.

Barbara Burke says raising the money was a community effort.

"People don't realize that all of the seniors are mostly on a fixed income and if their children want to continue their parents and grandparents having some place to go, they really need to support it," Burke said.

SAUK VALLEY MEDIA: Senior Center Needs New Roof

The downtown location is a familiar one to longtime farmer LeRoy Toms:

"This was a millinery store; they sold clothing and dry goods. Saturday evening at night, almost all of the farmers came to town. It was a big social gathering because people would park their cars or sit in their cars. Others would walk up and down the street and visit." LeRoy Toms, Polo

Toms says Polo has changed over the years. It used to have several thriving dairy farms but, he says, those have dwindled.

History Of Polo - Polo Library

Toms stays on the pulse of the Polo social scene through the senior center. Talk around the senior center varies from current events to memories of high school. In Polo, the school mascot is the Marcos. Even those who have lived in this town the longest still have trouble describing the beloved icon.

USA Today held an online contest to see which Illinois team had the best mascot. The Polo Marcos were among the choices
USA Today held an online contest to see which Illinois team had the best mascot. The Polo Marcos were among the choices
Credit USA Today

No matter, it's still a point of pride for the town's longest serving residents who still believe there's plenty more to explore in Polo.