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An Interesting Neighbor

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Life tossed a career curve ball at Val Blackburn in the 1980s.

She wasn’t the only one.

It was a time of economic upheaval – a bust of unparalleled scope hard on the heels of the largest oil boom in state history.

Val’s husband at the time made his living in the oil patch. Searching for work, the couple moved from Perkins to Edmond.

She landed a job as food service director at Copper Lake, an independent living senior community.

Though her marriage didn’t survive, Val had found her calling – working with seniors.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said.

Now her career path has led her to Purcell as the new coordinator at the senior citizens center.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

In time she would hold every management position at Copper Lake but one.

“I was never maintenance director,” she said.

From Copper Lake, she was hired by Shepherd Manor in Oklahoma City as that facility’s executive director.

She stayed there for six years and then took on her third independent living assignment at The Statesman Club.

Along the way, she remarried, was widowed and picked up a degree in hotel and restaurant management.

It was while she was working at The Statesman Club that she moved to Purcell.

A daughter lives and works here, you see.

Recently she moved to Lindsay. Not a bad commute mile-wise, given that she doesn’t have to deal with Oklahoma City traffic.

Still, she hopes to move back to Purcell sooner rather than later.

First things first, though, and  that includes growing the senior citizen center into the post-COVID era and beyond.

“I would like to build it with respect for the people here before,” she said.

Her goal is both complex and simple:

“Make it a gathering place again.”

Change will come in baby steps. She began work on July 1 and is still settling in.

“What I’m trying to do right now is get a great activity program going,” she said.

So far, seniors have told her they love bingo and would also like to see a regular exercise program.

One possibility for exercise would be the twice weekly Light & Lively program.

Those exercises can be done either standing or sitting.

“They are designed for every muscle in the body,” she said, “and are adaptable to any person’s mobility.”

Val is also exploring options for a music program based on likes and “what they want to listen to.”

She will introduce various crafts in August.

“My goal is get them together for socialization,” she said, “to make them smile.”

The possibilities are endless.

How about drama classes or learning to line dance? Perhaps some would enjoy a fishing club.

Val has “done a lot of different things and created new programs” elsewhere.

Some enjoy the fellowship of the center and the occasional contest of shooting pool. That’s fine with Val, who wants to initiate new activities while honoring her predecessors who are no longer here.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, leaving seniors locked in and isolated.

That cycle has to change, she said.

“Their minds are sharp,” Val said. “Whatever their interests are, I’ve told them we’ll get some programs going.”

Val estimated about 40 to 45 seniors are utilizing the center now though attendance varies from day to day.

While there are major differences between places like Copper Lake and The Statesman and a senior citizens center, the people aren’t so different.

Just the opposite, in fact.

“The people are the same – wise and sharp and intelligent. This generation is just wonderful. They can see through so much. The wisdom – what they’ve seen and been through. It’s what keeps me doing this,” she said.

It’s a big job for one woman. But not for one woman backed by an army of volunteers.

All contributions – time, talent, music and more – are welcome.

“I know there’s a wealth of talent in churches and schools,” Val said, “and I think there are people who would like to share their gifts with these folks.”

To volunteer, call Val at 405-527-5070.

Some goals will be easier met. But all are attainable.

It’s just a matter of time.

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