More than a dozen members and staff of the Wewahitchka branch of the Gulf County Senior Citizens Association gathered on the Rowlands’ lawn around two long tables decorated with brightly colored balloons that read “thinking of you.”
It had been something of a surprise party, said the Wewahitchka Senior Center’s Site Manager Renece Gainer, though it was as much for the couple as it was for all their friends, who have missed them over the past several months.
“Their daughter said they hadn’t really been getting out of the house or doing anything,” said Gainer. “They didn’t know we were coming. We surprised them, and they came outside, and they were happy. They came outside and started talking.”
James and Flora Rowland used to frequent the senior center, getting involved in many of the activities and becoming deeply ingrained members of the association.
But when Flora Rowland became ill, the couple stopped visiting as often, and eventually they stopped going altogether.
“They used to come to the center, always would come. They would be the first ones there,” Gainer said. “But after his wife got sick, they both stopped coming around.”
The Rowlands have been married for 71 years. Both will turn 92 in 2022.
As seniors face increasing complications with age, Gainer said, it is important that they don’t become isolated from their communities.
According to the Nation Center on Aging, social isolation in seniors can contribute to impaired mental performance, compromised immune system, and a heightened risk of chronic disease and depression.
Gainer hopes to be able to bring the couple to the senior center on a monthly basis, maybe more, not just for the Rowlands, but also for their friends at the center who miss their company.
“I’m definitely going to do it monthly,” she said. “(Their daughter) is going to call me when they get out of bed, and I am going to go pick them up and bring them to the center, then bring them back.”
The Gulf County Senior Citizens Association in Port Saint Joe is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. The Gulf County Senior Citizens Association in Wewahitchka is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST.
The Florida Elder Helpline can be reached at 800-963-5337.