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Make new friends, and keep the old

Familiar face returns to put new shine on Solon’s Old Gold Dining

By Lori Lindner
Solon Economist

SOLON– Ely resident Duane McAtee has served people much of his life.
Therefore, it’s not a big surprise that he has returned to Solon’s senior dining program as site manager; but to most, it is a blessing.
Solon’s Old Gold Dining program has been offering meals to the area’s senior residents for 33 years. Today, people aged 60 and up can get a hot meal for the price of a free-will donation, five days a week. The meals are served at Solon United Methodist Church fellowship hall, or delivered to homebound residents upon request.
Duane had previously served as site manager for the program in the mid-2000s. The program has been through several iterations throughout its time, including the coming and going of different site managers whose responsibilities included ordering the food, preparing the site for diners, packaging meals for delivery to homebound patrons, overseeing the operation of food handling, serving, and clean-up, completing necessary reports and paperwork, and also arranging for supplemental activities for participants to enjoy before, during or after the meal.
It’s a lot to accomplish in three hours a day, but Duane humbly points to the help he receives.
“We have good volunteers,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s about ‘we.’”
Duane understands a lot about handling food. He and his wife Anna operated the McStudt’s restaurant in Solon for about nine years, and did a lot of catering during and after the restaurant closed. In the previous time he served as site manager, he helped to rebuild a program that had seen flagging attendance.
“We– and I stress it was ‘we’ not just me– worked on getting the numbers up,” he said. “Things went well. We introduced things like the Valentines party and the Christmas party, sponsored meals, and we added visits from fourth grade students.” In just a couple of months, he said, attendance began to increase. Now, the once-monthly sponsored meals, where a local business picks up the entire cost for all attendees, now regularly sees about 50 diners, sometimes even up to 75 or 80.
Duane left the program but continued to volunteer, attend church and stay connected to Solon and the surrounding community. He was born and raised in Solon, and in his time here, he has helped start a program at the county home, and coached track, little league baseball and fifth/sixth grade softball, among many other volunteer activities.
In other words, he and Anna have a lot invested in the community, and have made many, many friends.
That’s why Solon Old Gold Dining site council member Art Tellin finds Duane’s presence so valuable.
“Duane is local. Almost everybody knows him, so when he calls them, they are talking to a friend,” said Tellin.
In fact, Duane does phone senior diners regularly, rather than just assume people will call to make the reservations necessary for him to get an accurate count for the next day’s meals. He lets them know what’s on the menu, what activities are planned, and personally extends an invitation to come.
“We are still working on growing the program, and providing more add-on activities,” Duane said. “A lot of the seniors enjoy the contact with their friends, and this program is about outreach. It’s bringing people in who might otherwise be alone.”
As the new year looms with some anticipated changes in the way Solon Old Gold Dining is funded and administered, Duane said his focus is not just growth, but also refining its direction and bringing greater consistency to programming and services.
What won’t change is Old Gold Dining’s overall mission of enhancing the experiences of seniors using good nutrition and engaging activities.
“We want to get seniors out of their houses and into a friendly setting, where they can have dialogue with other seniors and socialize,” Tellin said. “We want to feed them, of course. Some people don’t eat well, especially if they are living alone, so food is an important component, but there’s much more to it than that. We want to get people out and about.”
It’s the mission Duane keeps at the forefront of his duties, whether behind the counter serving the day’s entrée, or behind the scenes, calling elderly friends and asking if they would like to join the crowd for tomorrow’s meals.
“They’re fun. The people I work with are very open, and I think we have a close relationship,” said Duane. He values the importance of relationships as a key ingredient to overall well-being, and credits his wife for much of his positive perspective.
“What keeps me going is my wife. She shows a lot of courage,” said Duane, referring to Anna’s recent health difficulties. “She shows people that, even if you’ve got aches and pains, you can still get out and do things. She is an inspiration to a lot of people, not just me. She’s dearly loved.”
Tellin would say the same of Duane.
“Duane has done a lot of things other site managers haven’t done,” said Tellin. “He has devised new ways for us to engage people. That’s Duane; he’s always thinking about what we can do to have more fun.”
In better defining the senior dining program, Duane also hopes to clarify a couple of misconceptions; for example, there is no hard-and-fast age requirement. People who are under age 60 are welcome, but must pay a different price for the meal. The program does see young visitors from time to time, Tellin said.
“Sometimes, seniors bring their grandchildren,” said Tellin. “Other times, we have a daughter or son who will come, especially if a senior is new to the area and might want someone to come to the meal with the first time or two.”
It’s just important to make a reservation for those who plan to attend, Tellin reminded, so there is ample food to go around.
But no matter one’s age, the program does not have an income guideline, Duane noted.
“Old Gold Dining is for anyone who wants a meal, it’s not at all about being needy,” he said. “It’s about socializing and having fun for anyone who wants to come and have fellowship. So to those people, I say, ‘try us, you might like us.’”
To learn more about Solon’s Old Gold Dining opportunities, call 319-624-2251 before 1 p.m. To make a dining reservation, call the same number before 8:30 a.m.