‘It’s changed my view of aging’ Bernardston Senior Center director retiring after 15 years of being inspired

  • The Powers Institute in Bernardston, a former school, now houses the Bernardston Historical Society as well as the Senior Center. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Bernardston Senior Center Director Dianne Cornwell. Jan. 2, 2018. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/3/2018 5:45:09 PM

BERNARDSTON — Northfield resident Dianne Cornwell says being director of the Bernardston Senior Center and Council on Aging is the best job she’s ever had.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Cornwell recently announced she’s retiring after Feb. 28, rounding out 15 years at the Senior Center’s helm.

“It’s going to hurt to give it up,” Cornwell said, explaining she reached a good age to retire as well as a peak in her role. “I’ve hit a peak, and the peak is a great place to transition.”

“She’s done a great job,” Selectboard Chairman Stanley Garland said of Cornwell. “The seniors loved her. She kept a lot of great activities going (at the Senior Center) and she’s going to be greatly missed.”

Cornwell became director back when it was a shared role between Northfield and Bernardston in 2003. She was interested in the job as a way to return to public service. She had previously been a legislative aide to U.S. Rep. John Olver, and helped established the first emergency homeless shelter in Athol and the Franklin County Commission, predecessor to the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

As the senior population in both Northfield and Bernardston grew, the need for two positions arose. The job was split roughly two years after she started. She could tend to Bernardston five days each week as the number of Senior Center programs grew.

Today, the Senior Center offers extensive programming, including healthy bones and balance exercise classes, blood pressure and foot clinics, nutrition and fitness programs, painting and sewing classes, five meals each week, van service and continually changing workshops. Some, like the sewing and quilting classes, Cornwell teaches.

Grants, donations and volunteers are vital to keeping the programs going, Cornwell said, while Bernardston funds operation of the Powers Institute, where the Senior Center is housed.

“We’re always relying on the good will of someone else, but particularly the town of Bernardston,” she said. Financing programs can be difficult, Cornwell continued, especially considering increasing school budgets that make the town budget tight.

Programs have changed under Cornwell’s supervision as the age of people coming to the Senior Center has changed. Younger seniors, who populate the Senior Center today, are more interested in short programs, like the exercise programs, given their busy schedules, Cornwell said.

When nearly half of Bernardston’s population is over 50, Cornwell said, having a thriving Senior Center is important and something she’s proud to have overseen.

“They need places and spaces to meet, especially in rural areas,” Cornwell said of seniors. “Isolation is one of the greatest barriers for seniors.”

Whoever takes her place, Cornwell said, must be flexible and willing to adapt programs to fit the needs of the Senior Center’s changing population.

As for Cornwell, she plans to re-establish her consulting service, formerly called Red Feather Enterprises, which focused on grant writing. She’ll continue to oversee the Senior Center’s van service until a successor is trained, and she hopes to work with smaller Councils on Aging to help them reinvent themselves, having worked with Leyden in the past.

Plus, she’ll still be a familiar face at the Senior Center. Cornwell said she’d love to volunteer to teach painting, crafting and exercise classes.

Though Cornwell said the biggest challenge of being Senior Center and Council on Aging director is “the losses of people you’ve come to love,” she’s also been inspired by the people who walk through the Powers Institute doors every day.

“It’s changed my view of aging, myself, my beliefs in what you’re capable of as you get older,” she said. She remembered a woman who lived until 104 who came to the Senior Center daily, and who was still stacking wood at 102.

“The way you get inspired from people who are aging is priceless,” she said. “I’m aging and I hope to be priceless to someone.”

Those interested in applying to be Senior Center and Council on Aging director can view a full job description at townofbernardston.org/, or contact the Senior Center by phone at 413-648-5413 or by email at coa@townofbernardston.org.

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