The following is from “The Independent” August 27, 2021
Over the Hill Gang stops meetings, again
Aug 27, 2021. By Rachel Madison
When the Over the Hill Gang restarted their weekly Thursday luncheons in April after a 14-month hiatus due to COVID, they had high hopes they were back for good.
Unfortunately, due to the most recent surge in COVID cases because of the Delta variant, the gang made the decision Aug. 19 to suspend all meetings until further notice.
“The board came to an agreement that due to the increased threat of COVID, this will be the last Over the Hill Gang meeting until there is clear evidence that it is once again safe,” said Tom Williams, president of the organization, during his weekly announcements. “There’s no way we can social distance in here, and I personally would feel somewhat responsible if any of you got sick because of being here and even worse if you died from it, so we are going to try to avoid that.”.
Williams said before the pandemic, around 70 people would attend the weekly Over the Hill meetings for food and fellowship. Since the group started meeting again a few months ago, there have been dwindling numbers, with the last few weeks only bringing in around 25 people.
“Our group is just continuing to get smaller,” he said. “There are a lot of people already not coming. With the COVID cases on the rise and the new variant, plus the age of our group and the assorted ailments that go along with that age, I don’t feel comfortable with us gathering.”
Area seniors ages 50 years and older are eligible to join the gang.
During the group’s hiatus, Williams said he didn’t hear of anyone in the group contracting COVID, but he believes that was because everyone took isolating very seriously. And even when the gang started meeting again, many still weren’t ready to socialize and didn’t attend the weekly luncheon.
Although he is glad his group members are staying safe, Williams also worries about those who live alone and don’t get the chance to socialize much outside of Over the Hill Gang events.
“My wife and I were together isolating, and I mentioned to her how terrible this would be to go through alone,” Williams said. “It’s hard even for us not having people to talk to all the time.”
Because of the age of the group, Williams said they didn’t try any virtual meetings.
“While we were apart, we were apart,” he said. “I know there were a lot of friends here who tried to stay in contact, but it’s hard to play Canasta or Dominos over a virtual meeting.”
During the Over the Hill Gang’s absence from their meeting space in the County Annex building behind Parker’s Market, former Mayor Rick Hall rented out half of the building to The Village, a daycare for adults with disabilities. “We wanted to come back bigger and better, but it’s hard to come back bigger and better when you don’t have the space to meet,” said Ella Williams, one of the directors for the Over the Hill Gang’s board. “There’s no way we can social distance in just half our building. We love The Village—they are a wonderful bunch of people—and I’m all for finding a good place for them to be, which this was while we were gone, but I hope when we come back, we have more space.”
Tom Williams said Hall didn’t know how much the Over the Hill Gang group used the building, and while the gang doesn’t own the building, the group does own everything inside the building.
“We were promised a new building under the previous mayor,” he added. “They were going to move us across the street and build a new community center, but as you see, we are still here and there is still [city-owned] machinery over there [across the street]. I guess that was impacted by COVID also. However, if you ran a survey amongst our members, you wouldn’t find too many in favor of giving up this building. Instead, they just want to have our room back.”.
Current Mayor Liz Branigan said she has big plans for the Over the Hill Gang’s future and is currently looking into grant options to fund the building of a senior community center where the group can meet when they start their meetings once again.