A cluster of women sits in comfortable armchairs outside the exercise studio waiting for their class to begin. They come early just to chat. When their class is over, three of them will walk the mile-long paved trail that meanders through the woods outside the building. One will not; she’ll go downstairs to attend a seminar on global issues.
Two large window art studios are also located on this second-floor balcony. Depending on the day and season, the studios are filled with people taking drawing, painting, wood carving, quilting, and weaving classes. Across the hall, in the computer room, the class is learning the intricacies of Photoshop. All that can be heard is the low hum of voices and the whack of wooden balls hitting against one another in the billiards room.
This is a typical afternoon at Founders Hall, a not-so-typical senior center located at 193 Danbury Rd. in Ridgefield. Elaine and John Couri and Liz and Steven F. Goldstone planned and organized this foundation in 2002, with the objective to set a new standard for senior recreation and education; they named it Founders Hall in honor of the older members of the community, and the town of Ridgefield donated the beautiful campus.
There is no entrance fee to become a member. Each class costs about $30 which allows everyone, regardless of income, to participate. This only covers, however, about one-third of the operating costs. Fund-raising is active and ongoing. About 80% of its members contribute to this tax deductible (501c3) charity. “We rely heavily on volunteers,” says executive director, Grace Weber. “They help with everything from the mailings, staffing the library, to washing the teacups.”
To become a Founders Hall member one must be a Ridgefield resident and be at least 60 years old or have a spouse of that age. Non-residents may also join if they live in a neighboring town without a full-time senior center. There is a long waiting list, however, so it’s best to get your name on that list now.
The Founders Hall building resembles a gracious home, with adjacent and well-spaced parking areas around it. There are over 3,600 current members. Many of the 235 seniors who visit each day participate in a fitness class such as yoga, strength and balance, tai chi, tap, line dancing or Zumba.
Others come to watch a movie in the media room, or sit in the cozy library to read a newspaper or book and perhaps take one home from the large lending library. Others come to learn about genealogy, join a book discussion or writer’s group, see a cooking demo, brush up on a foreign language, or learn to play the piano.
Of equal importance to the classes are the social events such as the newcomer receptions, teas, tastings, games, bocce and billiard tournaments, picnics and holiday parties. Then there are the excursions to places like MoMA in New York City, and holidays at Newport Mansions, as well as places of local interest.
Elsie Millaway and her husband moved to Ridgefield from Redding: “It was because of Founders Hall,” she explains, while Susan Wick, of Lewisboro, N.Y., adds, “I call this my happy place. It’s rich in programs, and I enjoy the classes, speakers and field trips.”
“This is the greatest place,” says Arline Kimerling, a regular duplicate bridge player. “I thank heaven every day for the couples who built and sponsored it.”
These members evidently agree with Steven F. Goldstone, board chairman, who declares, “We can say with pride that this is one of the very best senior centers in the country.”