It’s Tuesday morning in the South End, and at the corner of Dartmouth and Montgomery Streets, coffee and tea are on the menu (bring your own tea bag though), and camaraderie and discussion are the fruits of the morning.
The South End Seniors informal discussion group has never been more popular, and they feature some of the best local and national discussions in the neighborhood – all fueled by good-natured Southenders interested in how to age productively.
This Tuesday, the topic of conversation was everything from the expansion of corporate short-term rentals to the popularity of cognitive studies to how to get to Ink Underground to the hatching of a turkey family on Braddock Park.
“We stayed unknowingly in one of these rentals when we went to Nashville recently and found ourselves quickly in a bad situation,” said Ken Kruckemeyer, a longtime attendee, agreeing with many in the room that it seems like trouble for the South End.
However, others who operate AirBNB or appreciate the service had other opinions, and lamented the corporatization of the industry.
“I think it was part of the gig economy that had a wonderful impetus in its origins to help people make a living and make some money,” said Judith Klau. “Money and time and influence always takes it and runs with it and makes it something much different.”
On another topic, an attendee discussed how he has been intrigued by a study at Northeastern he’s been doing on cognitive ability in older adults. He said it has been wonderful to learn and help, and others agreed they have found a great deal of satisfaction in participating in such studies at the universities in the area during their spare time.
Then came a lively discussion of the Fete de la Musique celebration last weekend, which was followed up by some talk of the Ink Underground mural festival. However, the hidden park under the Expressway is hard to find.
After several minutes of discussion about how to best get there, attendee Ann Hershfang laughed and said, “The irony of it all is I’ve been there twice, but I was with a group.”
“I’ve been there too and I didn’t recognize any of the directions,” laughed Betsy Boveroux.
It’s one part serious discussion, one part stand-up comedy.
Yet everyone leaves happily and respectful of one another – no matter what dissenting opinions may emerge through the South End power hour.
“To me, it’s the best thing I do all week, and it’s fun,” said Boveroux, who is the unofficial chair of the group. “The remarkable thing is we have one conversation and people don’t interrupt or talk over. We don’t have any trouble with that…We talk about the topic of the day. During the financial crisis, we talked a lot about that. Many of us read several books on that and tried to figure it out. We talk about local issues, world events and politics.”
Hershfang said the group started about nine years ago when a group of South End residents wanted to figure out what they were going to do in retirement.
The first turned to Beacon Hill Village and had some discussions with them and looked for a sponsor for it. There was a panel discussion with them and the Elderly Commission and others.
“To our amazement, 80 people came and many were single guys who were very interested in their future and what their opportunities were in retirement,” said Boveroux.
After trying to cobble together something official, someone suggested that Hershfang just host a coffee hour informally somewhere in the South End and see how it goes.
And that’s what they did.
The first met at Garden of Eden restaurant on Dartmouth with a dozen or so people, and then when it closed, the found a home in the Haley House – where the founders (who are Southenders) allow the Seniors to use the space in between the breakfast and lunch service.
Occasionally, in addition to the Tuesday meetings, they have a pot luck supper with some of the residents of the Haley House as an intergenerational activity.
Those activities have been going on now for many years, with the hub of the activity centered on Tuesday mornings – and activity that has been growing steadily.
“Our biggest turnout was 56, but that was the Tuesday after Trump won,” laughed Boveroux.