Laughter fills the air as the Gaspee Seniors gathered to celebrate the group’s 41st anniversary Tuesday in the Buttonwoods Community Center. Celebrating the occasion with cake and a spirited, musical chairs-inspired game, the women in attendance proved they can still have fun at any age.
Following the group’s formal meeting and social time during which cake, ice cream and coffee were enjoyed, former president Joan Briggs went to work setting up two rows of chairs for a game. When everything was ready, the women each took a seat and listened to the rules. A captain of the good ship Gaspee, played by member Louise Smith, would attempt to catch all of the fish in the sea and the remaining members were the fish. Each woman received a piece of paper with a sea creature pictured on it and when play began, Smith would call out the name of a creature and the women with that animal would have to exchange seats. The catch was, Briggs would take one seat away each round. The whole crowd got involved and enjoyed trying to get to an open seat before their competitors. It would appear to anyone that this group is incredibly close and has enjoyed each other’s company.
“It is a nice thing that a club has lasted that long,” said Audrey Marmaras, a member of the Gaspee Seniors who turns 90 this month. Marmaras joined the organization at the suggestion of a close friend, and as a result has made many more. With several members joining due to personal connections, the Gaspee Seniors provides a way for retirees to socialize, remember good times and meet new people, something that is difficult at any point in life.
“It’s not like going into a group of strangers,” says Marmaras of the Gaspee Seniors. “They are friends from the start.”
Similar to Marmaras, Smith joined the Seniors due to a deep, personal connection. She had been living in Arizona for seven years when her husband passed away. Shortly after, she decided to return home to join her sister, Gertrude, in the Gaspee Seniors.
Her sister has since passed away, but looking at pictures of former members and the different things they did helps keep Smith connected.
“When I look at what that bunch did, on the trips, lying on the bed with drinks, I say they had a lot of fun,” said Smith.
Formed in 1972, the Gaspee Seniors started as a community group to help neighbors in need. They would provide not only events for their members to enjoy, but help with driving each other to appointments or other commitments. The group would also organize outings to restaurants, local attractions and trips to places like New York City.
Due to rising costs and falling membership, the group has had to slow down with some of the more elaborate experiences.
“We used to go to restaurants, but it just got expensive,” explains Marmaras. In earlier years, membership remained at a solid 80 members with a waiting list; today, membership stands at 41.
While most meetings take place in the community center, Marmaras recalls taking recent trips to local attractions, including Roger Williams Park Zoo and Save The Bay, an experience she helped to coordinate. The group will also hold their annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner at Toll Gate High School next month, complete with traditional Irish corned beef.
In addition to having fun as a group and a commitment to helping others remain strong in the Gaspee Seniors, they adopt a family every holiday season, make donations to Neighbors Helping Neighbors and hold an annual food drive for the Westbay Marketplace.
The group is also committed to caring for one another. During the meeting, it was mentioned that get-well cards had been sent to two members currently recovering from eye surgery, as well as phone calls. Sending best wishes to members battling illness is a common practice among the group. Another member, Ginger Stanton, had been recovering from a small stroke but attended the meeting in good spirits, with support from her friends. Stanton even won the event’s 50/50 drawing and had the honor of cutting the cake.
“Oh, I am so glad she won,” said Smith. “She’s so lucky.”
Another Gaspee member receiving the praise of her peers is Briggs. With many referring to her as the heart and the soul of the organization, Briggs is the first to wish the group a happy anniversary during the meeting. Members also say she brings a lot of fun to the group with her ideas and games.
“She is irreplaceable,” said Smith.
The organization’s vice president, Jean Prendergast, also has a special connection to Briggs. A Rhode Island resident her whole life, Prendergast is now legally blind and not allowed to drive, so Briggs gives her rides when she needs them. This is the kind of deep connection and friendship that can be formed between individuals in the Gaspee Seniors.
While no original charter members are alive today, their memory is still with the group. Following their game, the meeting ended with several women combing through the many photos that had been set up and the original charter of the organization, a collection kept together by Briggs. They smiled as they pointed out former members who have since passed away and laughed as they found pictures of their own group dressed as bumblebees, babies, pumpkins and aliens to celebrate a previous meeting.
“Oh, it is so much fun to look back,” said Smith.
The group is now looking forward to their horse racing-themed meeting on March 5 at 1 p.m. at the Buttonwoods Community Center. New members are always welcome.