By Margaret Friedenauer

In late September, as the last cruise ship departed Skagway and seasonal workers began trickling out of town, another transition took place – the transition of the Little Dippers building to the Big Dippers building. It’s during that time the building sees a generational shift in its occupants from a day care to a senior gathering place.

Ginny Cochran is a daily user of the center when it’s serving as a senior center. She’s one of five volunteers who opens and closes the building each weekday afternoon. But with only a half dozen regular users, Cochran says more seniors need to realize what they’re missing.

“We figure the senior population is about 10 percent of the entire population, so that’s about 80 people. The problem is people don’t want to be called a senior,” Cochran said.

Cochran doesn’t mind, though,

“Heck no, I’m thankful for every day I get,” Cochran said.

The center primarily serves as a social gathering place from 1 to 5 weekday afternoons between October and May. There is usually a jigsaw puzzle going, some people knitting and Cochran says several people bring their laptops to the center where Wi-Fi is available. There is also a computer for use at the center. On Saturdays, a knitting group gathers in the morning and a cribbage group in the afternoon.

Noticeably lacking is a kitchen. Southeast Senior Services provides daily lunch for seniors at the Presbyterian Church.

To undertake the goal of getting Skagway seniors a year round, permanent location, former mayor Stan Selmer formed an ad hoc committee about two years ago. He says he hoped the group would research funding options for a new building dedicated to seniors, with a kitchen. He says he also hoped that having one would draw more seniors to use it.

“Seniors, getting some input on their own future is what everybody pretty much sets their goal to do,” Selmer said.  “I think the biggest goal to achieve would be to stop having to move out of their location each year. And I think if they could some place permanent and consolidation their activities there’s no reason in the world to not think they’re numbers would grow.”

And, he said, unlike the daycare, which primarily serves seasonal workers and families, most seniors live in Skagway year round.

“We’re such a seasonal community that there are some things that don’t need to be seasonal. We don’t need to show up at the senior center in January,” Selmer said. “We need to show up there January through December.”

Cochran, who sits on the ad hoc committee, says the group wants to create an inclusive place for the community, not just for seniors. A kitchen could be used for classes or by residents for things like canning, she says. And the building could serve the entire community by hosting small concerts or lectures. There’s even the possibility of including some senior housing in the design, to maximize the funding available for such projects.

The group has been working with an architect on designing a new center. It’s no secret they’ve been less than thrilled with the results so far – that topic has come up at assembly meetings. But Cochran says the group continues working to create a design. Until then, she’ll continue going to the Big Dippers Building because she likes the company and activity and being involved in the community.

“I live by myself,” Cochran said. “And I like the social aspect of it. I take my knitting with me. I’m willing to teach people to knit. For me, it’s just a fun time.”

The Big Dippers is open throughout the winter, each weekday from 1 to 5 p.m.