When community members come to the Tyler Senior Center, they say it is an enjoyable place.
They attribute that, in part, to the center’s supervisor, Kay Odom, and her husband, Patrick Odom, who plays music and sings there, among other places around East Texas.
Tyler Senior Center user Lea Thomas, who is in her 80s, said Mrs. Odom and her husband made her “feel right at home.”
“Every day is a good day. I sure do enjoy myself” at the center, she said. “I’m a widow. It’s just the very thing that helps me get through.”
And she said she doesn’t believe she’s ever met anyone like Mrs. Odom.
“She treats everybody equally, and she’s always speaking to everyone and seeing they are cared for. She goes out of her way to make you happy,” Ms. Thomas said.
For instance, she recalled a time when Mrs. Odom paid for someone’s cab.
She said Mrs. Odom also presents many opportunities to the seniors, such as painting, dance, shooting pool and exercise.
Shana Maani, 59, has been coming to the Tyler Senior Center for about three years.
She said she enjoys Odom’s music, and the Odoms’ love and kindness “makes me want to come more.”
“It seems like she (Mrs. Odom) cares for people … especially remembering their birthdays and talking to them…,” she said. “My birthday I wasn’t here, so I’m sure if I was here she would remember it.”
June Stephens, 75, described Mrs. Odom as “enthusiastic” about the Tyler Senior Center.
“Seniors need a good place to go and have fun,” she said.
She said Mrs. Odom also keeps the center decorated, and “it makes you happy when you walk in and see these bright colors.”
Her husband, Jim Stephens, 77, described it as “a fine place to be.”
Mrs. Odom, 66, initially heard about the senior center job while doing interior design work in Dallas.
Mrs. Odom said given that she spent more than 14 years working with high school students in Dickinson, located between Houston and Galveston, she believed it was something she could do.
“I thought … I bet I could do that because 18- year-old (high school) seniors — there’s not a whole lot of difference in 18-year-olds and 80s because by the time they get to 80 they’re going back around that circle of life,” she said.
“And they all want the same thing. They want their space, they want to be heard, they want you to listen to them and they want to be loved. They want you to take time and give them a hug.”
She said the senior citizens might have lost a spouse and want to be in a social group but don’t know how to proceed.
That’s where the senior center is able to step in, she said, by offering programs, such as Texercise, line dance, games, clogging, yoga and dances.
She said she and her husband love dancing, and Odom, who previously spent three decades in the corporate world, decided he could make money entertaining senior citizens by singing and playing guitar.
“We never dreamt that we would be doing the same thing in the senior community. It’s our life and we love it. We live it every day,” she said.
Odom, 66, said he enjoys playing electric guitar for Alzheimer’s and geriatric patients throughout East Texas, whether that’s in Tyler, Van, Palestine or somewhere else. He plays twice a week, using backing tracks. One of his popular requests is “All My Ex’s Live In Texas.”
He said he tries to interact with whatever audience he has, and make good eye contact.
“You have to get them involved in the song,” he said.
He also encourages his audience to sing along with him.
Additionally, he said, people would come to him and say they wish they could play a guitar.
“I encourage that for them. It’s never too late to sing or play,” he said.
Mrs. Odom said she, too, enjoys what she does.
“The lovely thing about this is … they’re here waiting for you. They’re ready to get going. They’re here to live life. And I think when you really and truly do the job you love it becomes not a job,” she said.
“We (she and her husband) both have this senior ministry, and we absolutely love it. He gets blessed. then I get to come home and tell him how blessed I am,” she added.
Mrs. Odom said community members also assist the senior center by bringing in food or supplies, so it is truly “a team effort.”
Aside from her work at the senior center, Mrs. Odom also serves as chairwoman for the East Texas State Fair Senior Day and is involved with Meals on Wheels. She said the senior center also works with the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce for senior activities.
Her belief is “age is attitude.”
“I think age is certainly attitude in the way you approach it…,” she said. “My mom’s fixing to be 90, and I look at her as such a great role model.”
In the future, she said, she continues to keep an eye on potential new programs and activities.
“Were just always looking for something to get them excited to get off the sofa during the day and come and play,” Mrs. Odom said.