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GOOD TURNS

Volunteer Enjoys Sharing the Gift of Time

Centenarian Mayme Loomis has logged nearly 11,000 hours of community service at a Fullerton senior center over the last 24 years.

June 08, 2003|Denise M. Bonilla | Times Staff Writer

Mayme Loomis is a one-woman history lesson.

The 100-year-old remembers vividly events that shaped a nation: the Great Depression, both world wars, the birth of television, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and so much more.

But the centenarian doesn't look back. She's busy making new memories as a volunteer at a Fullerton center for seniors, where she has logged nearly 11,000 hours of community service over the last 24 years.

"She [feels that] she's giving back to the community," said Margo Beverage, director of the Fullerton Senior Multi-Service Center. "It's a big thing for Mayme, giving back."

The center offers a host of programs and activities, from chess to line dancing, and serves up 100 lunches a day. For a $2 donation ($3 for those under 60), patrons can have a hot, nutritious meal. More important, it gives regulars an opportunity to get out and swap stories with friends.

"The meal isn't that important to them," said Beverage, whose program is run by the Feedback Foundation Inc. of Anaheim. "They can prepare their own meals. It's the companionship. They're tired of sitting home alone watching TV. They just want to have someone to talk to."

It takes 120 volunteers to do everything from coordinating programs to calling out bingo numbers. But retaining volunteers at a senior center is difficult, Beverage said. The younger ones move on. The older ones get sick and can no longer volunteer.

That makes volunteers like Loomis a rarity. She and Beverage first got to know each other through a lunch program at Fullerton's First Baptist Church. When the senior center was built more than two decades ago, the lunch program was moved there. They've worked together ever since.

Her help is needed. The popularity of the lunch program has soared, Beverage said, and her charges have become younger over the years, including men in their 50s and early 60s facing hard economic times.

Loomis signs up the hungry patrons and collects the money for lunch. Her warm smile draws in both friends and strangers.

"She's something to look forward to," said Dorothy Picquelle, 83, a longtime center patron. "You don't mind getting to 100 if you look like that."

The eighth of 12 children, Loomis was reared in Madelia, Minn., a small city 2 1/2 hours south of Minneapolis. In 1924, she married Frank Loomis, a boy she'd known since first grade. They had no children of their own, but in 1936, they unofficially adopted a local boy, Lyle.

The family moved to California in the 1940s, settling first in Culver City. As the primary breadwinner for her family, Loomis worked for many years as a clerk and bookkeeper. She and her husband moved to Fullerton when she retired in 1971 at age 68, and began a new career volunteering with the seniors program.

"It gets me away from home and I love their library here," said Loomis, an avid reader whose husband passed away in 1992. "It's my second home."

She started working in the kitchen, setting out meals. When she entered her 90s, and nature slowed her down a bit, she moved to a seat at the cafeteria's front table, where she took charge of collecting money and signing up the lunch-goers. "I got promoted, but no raise!" she joked.

While still sharp mentally, Loomis has had her share of physical setbacks in the last few years. She wears a hearing aid in her right ear, and a stroke sidelined her for a time. She can't work on her beloved quilts because of carpal tunnel syndrome, and she's not as agile as she used to be. Still, she comes back week after week to serve her clients.

"It's unbelievable to me that she's so active," said her son, Lyle Ewert, 69, of Buena Park. But he said she needs the human interaction.

"If she's not around other people, her battery's dead," Ewert said.

Her duties go beyond cashier. A smiling, familiar face who greets both the hungry and the lonely, Loomis serves up a heaping portion of counseling along with each meal ticket.

"I spend time with people," she said. "Many people tell me their troubles and sometimes I can help them."

For some, knowing Loomis will be there every Monday and Friday is comforting.

"Everybody loves her," said center visitor Rita Semple, who is in her 70s and has known Loomis for several years. "She never gets ruffled, never gets mad. She's still very much with it. And she always counts the money faster than anyone else!"

On her 100th birthday last month, Loomis, who acknowledged she has "outlived the world," wrote a poem capturing the bittersweet feelings that comes with watching friends, relatives, in fact all of her 11 siblings, pass before her.

"O Century, Sweet Century," she wrote. "You have left memories, sweet memories.... You have taken the aged and the young alike. Just one fragile leaf to carry on."

Loomis attributes her longevity in part to her genes -- one brother lived to 88 and a sister lived to be 95 -- a strong family background and faith in God, but definitely not to her dietary habits.

"I don't eat right, that's for sure," she said. "I don't eat enough vegetables, and I'm fond of bread and sweets."

Nutritional advice isn't something she dispenses to lunching seniors seeking the secret of a long and full life.

Instead, she tells them: "Make the most of every day, and try to be a blessing to someone every day."

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