When a state official came to visit the Houston Senior Center recently, she got to witness something the facility’s new administrator, Kevin Evans, was already aware of.

“She said, ‘this place is hoppin’,” Evans said.

Evans, 58, is a Willow Springs resident who began duties as the senior center’s leader at the beginning of this year after his long-time predecessor, Bernadine Hohlt, was promoted to a regional supervisory position with the Springfield-based SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging (the organization responsible for hiring staff at several area senior centers).

“I’ve been so grateful,” Evans said. “The people here at the center are a great bunch of folks and are really fun to work with. This really is a wonderful job.”

Evans graduated from high school in Joliet, Ill., and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music education from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. He is a widower whose wife, Coleen, died about a year-and-a-half ago, and he has two adult male children, one living in West Plains and the other in the Kansas City area.

Evans’ employment history includes serving in various positions at churches (following in the footsteps of his father, who is a pastor), as well as working as an elementary and middle school music teacher and a manager for the Schwan’s Company in the frozen food delivery field. He said much of his experience helped equip him to become a senior center director.

“In a sense, it involves taking care of people,” Evans said, “and as a teacher and in ministry you take care of people, so this kind of fell in line with a lot of the skills I had developed. And I have just loved it.”

Evans said he gets significant satisfaction in overseeing the Senior Center’s food program.

“Providing meals to an at-risk population is very important,” he said, “and it’s not going on as much as you would hope. So it’s really a joy to be a part of that.”

But with the current state of supply chains and other issues related to the shipping and delivery of food, simply obtaining it isn’t as easy as it used to be.

“There are food shortages left and right,” Evans said. “It has been a struggle to get some of the things we depend on; we order them and they’re just not available.”

Nonetheless, the Houston Senior Center has served nearly 10,000 meals in the past year, between the dining room and drive-through window. The center also delivered close to 8,000 frozen meals through its Silver Plate Meals program.

“Those are huge numbers,” Evans said. “And the need is so great.”

The center’s success in dealing with present-day food shortages can in large part be attributed to the kitchen staff’s ability to adapt.

“They have done an excellent job of creating nutritious meals with what’s available,” Evans said. “They’ve gone way beyond what I could have imagined – they’re just so resourceful.

“And we’re able to source some of our things locally as well, and that helps a lot.”

Food-related issues aren’t the only challenges being faced.

“We lost a lot of people with the center being closed during the COVID period, but also out of habit of not feeling safe to get out,” Evans said. “But we’re up and running again, and we’re trying to rebuild and bring things together.”

Much of the center’s “hoppin’” personality comes from frequent activities and events designed to create a fun atmosphere and environment. There are card game gatherings, a “craft and chat” group, billiard tournaments, movie days, Thursday bingo and more. “Elvis Week” even took place recently.

“I call them ‘random reasons to rejoice,’” Evans said. “There’s almost always something going on, and we’re always looking for new things to add. Isolation is such a big issue with our seniors, and it can cause many mental health problems. Providing these activities gives them a place to go and keep in contact with people, and it makes life more enjoyable.

“And it makes my job so much fun.”

Evans said there are multiple ways for people to contribute or help.

“We always need volunteers for events, and we use volunteers in the dining room,” he said. “And we’re always looking for donations for our sales and our coffee bar, and we absolutely love cash donations, because the funding from the federal government has its ups and downs.”

The Senior Center’s annual Walk-a-Thon fundraiser is set for Sept. 23. The event is the facility’s largest fundraiser of the year, and the goal is to raise $5,000.

“There are a lot of expenses for a building this size and the services we provide,” Evans said. “SeniorAge gets most of their funding through grants and federal funding, but the Senior Center itself is run only on donations and the Walk-a-Thon is very important to us.”

The center is overseen by a nine-member board.

“This is a fantastic facility,” Evans said. “The place is beautiful and the staff is just great, and the folks who come here are wonderful to work with.”

The Houston Senior Center is open 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and lunch is served from 11 a.m. to noon. For more information, call 417-967-4119 or go online to the center’s Facebook page.

HOUSTON SENIOR CENTER BOARD

President: Lynn Gayer

Vice-president: Danny Delcour

Treasurer: Shawn Brown

Secretary: Lana Bucher

Members: Elaine Haemker, Elaine McCarry, Pat Morrison, Russ Stigall, Buck Wade

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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