By Dan Harkins
DELTONA - Every Friday afternoon, the seniors at the Deltona Community Center overlooking Lake Monroe, pack up as if they were leaving for good.
The city owns the center at 980 Lakeshore Drive, and it regularly rents out the space on nights and weekends.
"If we had our own place," said longtime resident Beverly Pellon, "we wouldn't have to take our pictures and our decorations down every time the city rented the place out for a party or a wedding. We could just leave it all up."
The injustices keep stacking up. A poster in the lobby states that bingo and cards are off-limits before 12:30 p.m. The place is only open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Every time I start winning, it's time to go home," said Manny Lopes, 71, a regular card player at the Sunshine Senior Center here, run by the county's Council on Aging. "But if you have your own building, nobody can tell you when you have to go."
These aren't just pipe dreams. About 30 Deltona seniors gathered recently in the center to decide what features they'd most like to see in a brand-new or at-least-revamped senior center. That center might already have been built if the city and COA had already received the bequest of more than $700,000 it received back in 2009, when 88-year-old Genevieve Jablonski died in Iowa and her will indicated that much be used to build a new senior center in the city.
Since the Salvation Army also is mentioned in the will, though, that organization contested the will in Iowa, claiming Deltona doesn't have the means to carry out Ms. Jablonski's wishes.
Doug Beach, the COA's CEO, told the seniors that a resolution passed by the Deltona City Commission at a recent meeting was one way of showing the probate judge the city and COA fully intend to use the money for a senior center. The other way: designing a revamp of the community center that includes the true wishes of Deltona's seniors.
"At the end of the day," Mr. Beach told them, "we're going to do everything in our power to make sure the dollars are coming this way."
Before the meeting, Mayor John Masiarczyk said the city was committed to carrying out the seniors' wishes.
"The last thing we want to do is tell the seniors what to do with this money," he said, adding, "I am a senior now, though, so I feel a little funny saying that."
Rocco Zornacchia wondered aloud whether he'd make it long enough to see a new center.
"You look like you're in good shape," Mr. Beach said.
"Yeah, for the box," Mr. Zornacchia joked, filling the room with laughter.
Mr. Beach and DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar, an attorney working pro bono to help the COA obtain the bequest, both estimated the process should last another six to eight months, since the Salvation Army was seeking a settlement through an arbitrator.
The judge should see, Mayor Apgar told them, the center here would reflect the true wishes of Deltona.
Seniors at the meeting placed two stickers each on about a dozen sheets of paper posted to a window, each representing a different feature of the senior center they have in mind.
The tally, from most desired to least: poker room, 16 votes; exercise room, 15; dedicated meal space, 12; billiards room, seven; dance floor, six; computer lab, six; lockers, six; cafe, three; library/board game room, three; walking trail, three; art room, three; stage, two; and a room for rent, two.
The existing community center already has many of these features, such as a stage, dance floor, cafeteria and a handful of ancillary rooms.
What it lacks for many here, however, is the feeling that you're standing in the 21st century - from the dropped ceiling above to the parquet floor below.
Tom Burbank, a retired city planner who's lived in Deltona since 1967, said it felt a little surreal for him in the center, doing what he was doing.
He was the secretary-treasurer of a teen club that gathered there. This year he started collecting Social Security.
"I was a teenager in here complaining that there was nothing to do," he said, "and now I'm a senior in here again, complaining that there's nothing to do."
Mary Micelli would argue with that. The COA has paid the 68-year-old to run the senior center here for nine years.
"I'm in my element," she joked recently. "When they hired me, they go, 'Are you able to work with seniors?' And I was like, 'I am one.'"
She said Ms. Jablonski experienced the center 's decline for about 15 years, before moving back home to Black Hawk County, Iowa, shortly before her death.
"And that was a blessing," she said, "because this wouldn't be happening any other way."
She hopes the improvements will entail a sprucing up of the center's two buildings, not just the one that's currently habitable.
The Mackle brothers, who developed Deltona, donated this lakefront parcel to the Deltona Civic Association several decades ago.
The association couldn't stomach the annual tax bill, though. They kept the "Little Red Schoolhouse" building on the site for their offices and gave the city the two community center buildings.
In recent years, the building on the west side of the site - nearly identical to the other - has faced code violations and has been empty.
Ms. Micelli and others hope the money will be spent to remodel and expand that empty building next door.
"Then the city can rent this out as much as they want," she said. "It will be nice to be able to actually be open nights and weekends."
It's something that Ms. Jablonski would be proud to have been responsible for, said Ms.Pellon.
She remembers an unassuming retired teacher, who never married or had children or bragged about any financial largesse. Her clothes were modest at best.
She wasn't always in the greatest of moods, admitted Ms. Pellon, but she did try to foreshadow what was to come.
"She said one time to me," recalled Ms. Pellon, "'My name's Jablonski. Don't forget it!' and here we are. Yeah, we are going to remember her name."