Free Soil Area Senior Center: Holding the community together

February 9, 2023

Free Soil Area Senior Center: Holding the community together

Around the County is a presentation of Preferred Credit Union,, located locally at 266 N. Jebavy Dr., Ludington.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

FREE SOIL — Every Tuesday and Thursday a group of neighbors gather at the Free Soil Area Senior Center, located at the Free Soil Community Center and Gymnasium on Democrat Street to share a meal, talk about their week, chat about their children and grandchildren, voice concerns about health care, and share some laughs. Some of them walk some laps around the gym or workout with exercise equipment. There’s even a small library with coaches. A few times throughout the year they go on some adventures as well.

“It’s nice to be out with people,” said Deanne Gancarz of Free Soil. Though she’s a lifetime resident of Free Soil, she said she’s new to the senior center, having become more involved since her husband, Bob, passed away three years ago.

Free Soil Senior Center is a non-profit organization that is overseen by a board of directors and its executive director, Sherry Hasenbank.

Hasenbank has been involved in the center since 2009 or 2010, she said. 

“Our goal is to hold our community together,” Hasenbank said. “Over the last couple of years we have expanded our involvement in the community beyond just meeting twice a week for meals. Last fall we helped organize a trunk or treat event for kids and held a Christmas event as well. Both were very successful.” Hasenbank said the two events were also co-organized by the Village of Free Soil, Free Soil Township and Free Soil/Meade Fire Department. 

Hasenbank is a volunteer.

“The only people who get paid here are the cook and cook assistant,” Hasenbank said. “I do this because I enjoy being around seniors and listening to their stories. I also think we have an obligation as a society to take care of them.” 

Funding for the senior center comes from the Mason County Council on Aging millage, which is funded by .3 mill paid by county property taxes. The millage also provides funds for the other three senior centers in Mason County (Tallman, Scottville Area, and Ludington), along with Meals on Wheels. The Free Soil Senior Center is also funded through donations, including the suggested $3 per meal. The Tallman center is also operated by a non-profit board while the Ludington center is operated by the City of Ludington and the Scottville center is operated by Mason County Central Schools.

“The meals are paid on an honor system but we don’t turn anyone away,” Hasenbank said. “This is a place for friends and neighbors to gather and for us to be a community.” 

Candy and Tom Nesbitt moved to Free Soil Township from Portage five years ago. They had owned their property since 2009 and finally moved here after retiring. They are regulars at the senior center. 

“This has been our place to meet other people from the area,” Candy Nesbitt said. “It’s nice to hear what’s happening and also to get to know who’s who. We don’t have the history here like many of the other people, but they have been very welcoming.”

The senior center also organizes excursions throughout the year. Some of the favorites, Hasenbank said, have included visiting the butterfly exhibit at Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Cherry Pointe Market near Silver Lake, Dale & Gale’s theater in Hart, and the music museum in Traverse City. 

“I think this place keeps people young,” Hasenbank said. 

Meal reservations are requested (meals may also be delivered). To reserve a meal or for more information call 231-464-6789. 



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