By Rick Romano
As he walked to his car outside Tosa’s Hart Park Senior Center on a late Monday morning near the end of October, Dale Omdahl smiled and said, “Oh yeah, coming here is always good.”
Omdahl has made visiting the Center a daily ritual, stopping for coffee, read a newspaper and socialize with whoever is around.
On that day, Omdahl had his pick among dozens of other seniors from Wauwatosa and other communities. A group gathered in the dining room to converse long before lunch was served. Down the hall, a regular group of card players from Wauwatosa, Milwaukee and West Allis bantered as they played Skat, a hybrid one player call “the best card game ever.” In the upstairs gym, instructor Donna Wolf led a group of more than 20 in a Cardio-Balance Strength Class.
Keeping a community going
The building teems with activity because the city – and a group of dedicated senior volunteers – refused to let the Center die after its previous management pulled out almost a year ago. Today, the center is part of the Wauwatosa School District’s Recreation Department. The Department tapped a new director whose charge includes growing the number of senior members as well as combining the Hart Senior Center with the Senior Club at City Hall and make it one entity.
Director Kosta Zervas is a Wauwatosa son whose career includes teaching and helping run recreational services in his hometown. Prior to his Center job, Zervas was a student supervisor at Wauwatosa West high School where for 17 years he was involved in study skills, study hall, and after school activities. He has an undergraduate degree in geography from UWM and a master’s degree in counseling from Concordia University.
A posting from the Senior Center job caught his eye this last spring.
“My goal was to get to the university level as an advisor or counselor,” he said, philosophically noting that one’s life plan can change. “I had worked in Tosa Rec. in some capacity since 1993. I saw this as a new challenge.”
That experience that dates back to high school gave him a unique respect for the programs offered by the Recreational Department.
“I always admired what the department had done with a great reputation for adding quality of life programs for all ages.”
Zervas, 40, said he knew his learning curve for working specifically with seniors may be somewhat steep, but he pointed to his life’s experiences as advantageous.
“I worked on my church council and served as president, “he said of his association with Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church just outside of Wauwatosa’s borders in Milwaukee. “I worked closely with the church elders there. I see myself as an old soul l. I am a good listener and can start a conversation and chat with people of all ages.”
Mike Wick, director of the District’s Recreation Department, said Zervas “rolled to the top” of the strong pool of candidates.
“There was his volunteer experience as well as his career credentials.” Wick said. “He has been a lifelong community resident with many past connections which is a benefit.”
That community and church experience is guiding Zervas to take a measured approach at the start of his leadership.
A new approach
“My goal right now is to just be around, to be seen,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in and make a lot of changes. It makes sense to see what works and what doesn’t.”
He has ideas, including developing intergenerational programs through some of the local schools he attended while growing up. Just like the experiences he had in his youth, Zervas wants to give youngsters and older adults alike the opportunity to meet and talk. It’s a way, he said, of bringing the local community even closer together.
Another idea, he noted is to have the Center work with Longfellow School to use that facility’s pickle ball courts for members. Pickle ball has become more popular for the seniors.
Those Hart Park Senior Center members who volunteered during the first six months of this year are happy to have a new director. Two of those volunteer leaders – Brad Roark and Barb Schumacher – said they welcome the opportunity to go help on a much more part-time basis. Roark helps to staff the all-important front desk that greets members and visitors.
Schumacher does the same and is chair of the travel committee that arranges local and even international excursions.
“Oh yes, said a smiling Roark. “I am very happy to have a director here. It’s good for the Center.”
Schumacher said she wished the leadership situation has been resolved sooner and hopes that the Rrecreation Department is a good fit. She referred to the Center’s history since its inception in 1999 that the YMCA and then Interfaith had managed the operation.
Both of them had a lot of experience in working with seniors,” Schumacher said. “There will be a learning curve now, but Kosta has worked hard. He has attended the classes and meetings and we now have our full monthly newsletter again – so this is a positive step in the right direction.”
An appreciative history
Zervas appreciates older adults and what the Center means to the community.
“Growing up, I didn’t hear a lot about the Senior Center, because my parents weren’t that age,” he said. “I’ve grown up in Wauwatosa. I remember riding my bike through Hart Park and playing tennis. I don’t find myself going to downtown Milwaukee. I’ll go to the Village and have dinner and I’ll go watch a game at Leff’s. My friends call me WauwaKosta.”
And now he knows a lot more about the older adults he sees very day.
“Like everywhere else, we have an aging population,” Zervas said. “These are people who have lived and they have a lot to offer. This is one big family.”
More About Tosa’s Commitment to Seniors
The Hart Park Senior Center offers a variety of programs and services. The Center, located at 7300 Chestnut St. in Wauwatosa. Operates from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.
The Senior Club is located in the first floor of the Civic Center at 7500 W. North Avenue. It is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
A look at the Hart Park fee-based fall class schedule showed exercise classes such as aerobics, an Arthritis Foundation exercise program, cardio-balance-strength, chair and regular yoga, muscle conditioning and Tai chi. Art classes include a watercolor workshop, acrylic painting and mixed media. Spanish also was offered.
Depending on the activity, fees ranged from $25 for members to $74 for nonmembers.
The annual membership fee differs slightly between the Hart and Civic Center sites. At Hart, residents pay $16 and nonresidents pay $20. At the Civic Center, residents pay $15 and nonresidents pay $20.
In addition, lunch is served each day the Hart Park Center is open. Director Kosta Zervas noted the cost is just a few dollars and attracts a number of area seniors who live independently and also at senior communities.
“Whether it’s politics or life in general, conversations are always good over a meal,” Zervas said.
Zervas said he is working on aligning membership to reflect access to both sites.
To get more information about all the senior sites have to offer, call 414-471-8495 or visit www.wauwatosa.net.