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SINGLE LIFE

Seniors Club Focuses on Kicking Up Heels

October 06, 1989|EVAN CUMMINGS | Evan Cummings is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

When Eileen Armstrong's son moved his family from Orange County to Pennsylvania a year ago, he was concerned that his mother, a Mission Viejo resident, would be lonely out here alone. He need not have worried. The vibrant retiree can be found rocking nearly every night--not in a chair, but on a dance floor.

Armstrong, a former accountant, holds to a strict policy of never divulging her age, dismissing it as merely a number.

"I feel no different than I did 40 years ago," she said. "The only time I realize that I am older is when I look in the mirror."

Like many other single seniors who live in Orange County, she has made good friends through activities she enjoys and the clubs in which she is active. Friends like Winfried Beykirch, 62, a retired engineer who lives in Huntington Beach. Frequent dance partners, the two have found a welcome friendship through mutual interests.

Beykirch has no problem filling his leisure hours: "There is so much to do. Many people don't realize that there are senior citizen recreation centers all over Orange County where one can take dancing lessons for a nominal fee. From Garden Grove to Mission Viejo, you can dance every day and night if you want to--and meet terrific people in the process."

Ten years ago, the late Elizabeth Ochs, who lived in Santa Ana, found herself entangled in a mid-life divorce. Feeling isolated and lonely, she sought out others who were in the same situation. But she found few resources available to single people in her age group. Thus, "Wheel of Friendship"--a singles club for people 55 and over--was born.

Ochs died a year ago, but the club still flourishes, with about 100 active members who meet regularly at sites throughout the county for such activities as bridge, bowling, golf, dining and excursions. Ochs wanted it to be more than just a dating club--she wanted the club to feel like family to those with special needs, says Betty McCone, director of publicity.

"We have members who drop out when they are dating someone special, then come back if the relationship doesn't work out," McCone said. A number of members have found spouses through the club. A recent wedding marked the 24th between members since the club's inception, McCone notes.

Single seniors often have trouble finding men and women their own age to date, said Betty Malgieri, 59, of Anaheim. "There are two problems--first, finding friends my own age, and second, finding them away from the workplace." However, she added, "there are lots more groups and clubs for single seniors than there used to be. You can find golfing and travel groups, dance groups, bridge groups--there is something for everyone these days, which is really wonderful."

When Marge Smollen, 62, lost her husband in 1988, she attempted to find a club that catered to Jewish singles of her generation, but nothing was available. So she formed her own small club. The club, Young at Heart Jewish Singles, meets once a month for parties in her Placentia home.

Smollen quickly discovered that "we women outnumber the men, especially in this age group. And sometimes it is hard to persuade women to come if there aren't enough single men. But I think people should concentrate first on just having a good time. Socializing is the best way I know to stay young."

Maurice Le Avey, 68, of Laguna Niguel can be found doing just that every Saturday night at a weekly singles dance sponsored by the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in El Toro. Some of the regulars--Patsy Casada, 60-ish, Hortense Anderson, 64, and Larry Stark, 58--come from as far away as Long Beach. "We'll go anywhere to dance!" Casada said.

With a twinkle in his eye, Le Avey said, "Just imagine--where else could an old man like me meet a lovely woman and, within 15 minutes, have her in my arms?"

Le Avey, a former entertainer in his native England who migrated to Orange County 32 years ago, never married. But he hasn't given up hope.

"My ultimate partner is somewhere out there," Le Avey said. "I just haven't found her--yet." He said he will recognize her instantly. "She will be able to dance the authentic Argentine tango. Very different from the American version. Quite exquisite, really."

Eileen Armstrong echoed the sentiments of other single seniors: "There's no reason to be lonely or depressed . . . You can't sit around waiting for life to happen--you have to make it happen."

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