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Members share memories during open house
Ripon Senior Center commissioners were on hand to greet the some 80 guests attending Thursday afternoons 25th anniversary celebration of the center located at the corner of South Wilma Avenue and Fourth Street. From left are Bill Hunter, Jake Van Dyn, Joan Flowers, Jerry Terpsma, center director Teri Silva and Nancy Vander Veen. Not able to be present was Bonnie Graham. - photo by GLENN KAHL

There were some 80 members and guests celebrating a quarter century of togetherness in their modern Ripon Senior Center at a Thursday afternoon open house.

Yellowing scrapbooks created by the late Grace Vander Veen told the other side of the story with the senior citizens of the community actually organizing in 1970 – 43 years ago – and meeting in the old framed Christian School building on Main Street, just east of Wilma Avenue,  now occupied by a church.

Sitting together at a table enjoying sandwiches were Katheryn Boersma and Rena Pilotti who could tell their stories first hand including the formation of the jaw-dropping, 11 member “Kitchen Klatter Band” that was famous for using musical instruments from ranch house kitchen. They stretched the gamut of their instruments from the careful selection of wash tubs to teapots.

Pilotti is the only surviving member of the band today, and she clearly remembers playing the teapot flute.  She chuckled, telling the story of joining the seniors when she was 44, allowed only because her husband who was 20 years her senior was already a member.

Lucy Anderson chose a washer woman’s tub for her instrument while Helen Davidson played the funnel horn.  Francis Sanford tickled the piano keys and never used sheet music, they remembered.  Pearl Fleming thumbed a base tub – a broom stick held to the bottom of an upside down wash tub.  Lou Groen got her deep tones from a funnel and a kazoo. 

The other band members included two women, both named Grace Vander Veen, along with Clarice Thiemann and Maggie Otten. The impromptu musicians all got together without fail on Tuesday afternoons to put together their musical extravaganzas designed to make their audiences laugh and gently stomp their feet.  They met once a week for 10 years for practice.

Pilotti and Boersma remembered getting their beloved seniors’ group started in 1970 as Boersma took the lead of the retirees where members had to be 55 years old to join the ranks.  They had wanted Dr. Harold DeJong – a much loved and respected Ripon dentist – to be their first president.  The age had to be dropped to 50 from 55, because DeJong would be 50 and eligible to join their numbers in just six months and could take over the group from Boersma.

They recalled collecting small 2x3 foot carpet samples from area stores and sewing them together to create a rug for their first center on Main Street.  The curtains and draperies on the windows were also handmade by those early board members.

Johnnie Thomas and his wife Betty were deeply involved in conversation at their table at Thursday’s anniversary celebration – a truly popular couple among the seniors, both known as eager volunteers for years.  Johnnie is approaching his century mark on July 22 when he will celebrate his 100th birthday.

They both told of losing their mates and later finding each other to enjoy their later years in Ripon.  Johnnie hails from White Oak, NC; Braden County.  He grew up on two adjoining family farms where his family grew cotton, corn and peanuts.  One was 42 acres in size and the other 50 acres.

Among the guests at the senior citizens’ celebration Thursday afternoon was one city councilman, Leo Zuber, and Assistant City Administrator Kevin Werner who wished everybody well.  Those three special scrapbooks that date back some 40 years are on a table inside the center for all to enjoy what Grace Vander Veen put together mostly from newspaper clippings – spending many late night hours so future generations could enjoy and to reflect upon those stores of years past.

When someone suggested that Pilotti try to get another Kitchen Klatter Band together to carry on the traditions of years past, she replied in a deep voice, “Let’s get going!”

The present senior center building was opened in November of 1987.