Good senior citizenship

The band played Dixieland Jazz as hundreds of seniors look on, tapping toes. Missy Lizzy, the clown, danced on an otherwise unoccupied dance floor under the big tent in the summer sunshine.

This was Seniorpalooza, better known as Senior Fest 2002. Bob Barnes’ Big Band provided the groove, and, later, when the Eldorado’s Tap Dogs dished out the foot percussion, silver-haired and dressed-to-the-nines women clogged the aisles and clapped their hands. No keys were flung to the stage.

Senior Fest 2002 provided candidates with an opportunity to press the flesh with the people who will be casting the decisive votes this November. It is a fact that senior citizens vote in far greater per capita numbers than any other demographic group. The event also provided senior voters with an opportunity to meet the candidates.

“I love it,” said sprightly, 79-year-old Mary Margaret Grady. “I’ve had a wonderful time.” She came to Senior Fest for one reason: She wanted to express her support for mayoral hopeful Mike Robinson.

“I’m voting for Mike Robinson,” she said. “I don’t believe in the train trench at all. Those trains usually come by at night, and I love to hear them.”

Grady retired just last week, “for the third time.” She worked a late shift at the Eldorado, and when the trains came by, she said, there would only be five or six cars waiting for the train to pass. Although several of her six children attended the University of Nevada, Reno, she’s lived in Reno for only seven years. “I think the train trench is going to be a horrible waste of money.”

Robinson’s opponent, Bob Cashell, was likely listening to these sorts of views, and probably hearing quite a few that express the opposite opinion. He said that it would behoove all candidates to appear in places that seniors gather. “They all vote,” Cashell said.

He stopped short of saying that senior citizens are cannier than other voters, but they are certainly more interested in making human contact with those who will represent them in government. “They see all the hype. They want the chance to shake hands and look you in the eye.”

The candidate forum and stage entertainment were only a part of the event. Nearby was free food, and the smartest candidates staked out territory near the food lines, where they had a captive audience to hand out their political baubles, such as refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, jar openers and even cookbooks.

Inside the Northeast Community Center, there were also health screenings, provided by Saint Mary’s Wellness Center, and red, white and blue festooned booths offering information on everything from home-security lighting to AARP to the Regional Transportation Commission.

At the AARP table, the conversation turned to statewide issues. While the agenda has yet to be set for next year’s state Legislature, Dennis Chin, president of the local chapter of the AARP, says health-related questions will be at the top of the list.

“We’re concerned about the senior prescription program,” he said. “We need to get the people signed up and get the program working. I think there are about 600 people on the waiting list. The program is filled, but there’s no money.”

The AARP is also concerned about skyrocketing costs for utilities. “Too many people still have to make the choice between eating, buying their drugs and having heat.” More senior political perspective can be found on AARP’s Web site,

The event—sponsored by Senior Spectrum Newspapers, with help from the city of Reno, the Eldorado Hotel-Casino, Harrah’s Reno, the Peppermill Hotel Casino, the Atlantis Resort and John Ascuaga’s Nugget—is a big annual draw. Senior Spectrum Publisher Connie McMullen said she expected more than 4,000 people, and possibly 5,000, attended this year.

Judging from the packed food lines and the no-room-to-squeeze-between booths, she wasn’t exaggerating.

“They like it because everything’s free, and we try to keep it safe as possible,” McMullen said. “Everybody partners up [to put it on], people can get information about senior programs, senior computer classes, softball, swimming. They can get information about resources, insurance, long-term care. They can get health screenings for osteoporosis or pulmonary; it’s all here.” Inside there was a silent auction to benefit the Veterans Day Parade, which receives no city funding.

She added that three couples had "renuptials," or marriage vow renewals, that morning. "One couple has been married for 57 years. Look, there’s a couple of them on the dance floor now."