Informal meet-ups let seniors, retirees escape cabin fever

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. (AP) — A couple of years before he retired from Delco Remy in 2006, Richard Howard bought the Alexandria Feed & Supply on Indiana 9.

On any given day, at any time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., several cars may be parked outside the building, giving the deceptive impression that a vigorous trade in pig, horse and chicken feeds is taking place behind its doors.

But the fact is the store has been closed for about three years.

Instead, the building is used for daily informal meet-ups of retirees who come to solve world problems, trade dirty jokes and reminisce about old cowboy shows.

“It’s become an adult day care center,” Howard said. “We’re not pillars of the community, I don’t think.”

The feed store is one of several places, including the Circle K store in Summitville and the McDonald’s in Alexandria where seniors — most of them men — find companionship once they leave behind the workplace where for decades most of their social interaction took place. With few options for seniors throughout the county, these communities are making their own.

At the Alexandria feed store, where the table is spread with a junk food feast of party peanuts, chips and butterscotch pie, the regulars hang out seven days a week, even on holidays.

The tradition started, Howard said, when he still sold feed.

“A lot of the guys would come up here. We’d have coffee and doughnuts,” the Alexandria native said. “If I sell the building, I’d have to go back home. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

It’s the place where the regulars, like Stephen McPhearson and Frank Davis, come to keep up with local news, attracting the occasional visit from politicians looking to persuade them to swing votes their way.

“It gets pretty heated up here sometimes. We agree to disagree. It’s about half Republicans and half Democrats,” Howard said.

McPhearson is a 1996 retiree from Delco Remy.

“I can come in here and know everything that’s going on in Alex and everything going on in Frankton,” he said.

Up the road in Summitville, about 20 regulars come through the Circle K in two — some say three — “shifts,” filling up three tables near the picture windows where they can keep track of whose pickup truck is driving down the street. The early shift is made up of farmers and their farmhands, who start coming in as early as 5 a.m.

The daily meet-ups started about three years ago, said Terry England, who participates in both shifts, coming in at 7 a.m. and staying till about 10:30 a.m.

The Kentucky native raised in Summitville said the meet-ups started about three years ago.

“People just started coming in here, enjoying each other. Some of the people is really good people to be around,” he said.

England, who retired in 2008 after 30 years at Firestone in Noblesville, said the Circle K is the place to be to learn whose mother has passed away and whose son is getting married.

“We try to keep up with what’s going on with all the people. It’s how we keep up with what’s going on in town, making sure everybody’s in good shape.”

Retired truck driver and former assistant fire chief Dewayne “Peanut” Gaskin said the morning ritual at the Circle K is a way to escape cabin fever.

“If there’s nothing to talk about, we make it up,” he quipped. “I’ve learned more about farming since I retired than I ever knew.”

But at the Circle K, not all the regulars are necessarily retirees. Scott Kornbroke, for instance, works at the local water utility and sometimes stops by for a Dr Pepper break to get out of the freezing weather.

“It’s really about the only local place, actually, without leaving town,” he said.

Unlike Alexandria, where there are no limitations on what can be discussed, the Circle K bans discussions of politics and religion.

“It just causes too much friction,” Kornbroke said.

Benefits of socialization for seniors recognized

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, continued social activity and engagement has many mental and physical health benefits for seniors. For instance, social networks help seniors ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, AARP reported. Ongoing social networks also help facilitate activities, such as walking, golf or bowling, that keep people physically active and healthy, according to AARP.