Sewickley YMCA's Sterling Circle keeps seniors moving

| Thursday, July 3, 2014, 2:45 p.m.

For a couple hundred participants in a program based at the Sewickley Valley YMCA, their golden years also are their sterling days.

The YMCA's Sterling Circle, which bills itself as a circle of friends over age 55, is based on the premise that social well-being is just as important as physical activity as people get older.

“We had a lot of 55-plus people coming to the Y to take classes and we saw they really needed some social time. To be healthy is not just the body, it's the mind and emotion, too,” said Karen Hallisey, 58, the Sewickley Valley YMCA chief operating officer who with Celeste Fryz, 51, of Moon runs the program. Fryz works part time for the Y, in member services.

“I couldn't have done this without Celeste,” Hallisey said.

The group started with 25 participants and now tops out at about 200.

“There are little cliques here — retired professionals, people with the same interests,” Hallisey said. “They really bond and wind up meeting for social events outside of the Y.”

On one day in June, a few seats remained at the tables for Lunch and Learn, which is planned once each month. After lunch, group members celebrated the 47th anniversary of Emmy and Roger Gillan of Moon and birthday celebrants received gifts.

They listened to a talk about the uses of essential oils to treat ailments. They compared notes and giggled as lavender, lemon and other scents were passed around and the aromas filled the room. Other luncheon topics have included financial fraud, farm to table and eating healthy at restaurants.

Other activities Hallisey and Fryz plan include social time on Thursdays, chair zumba classes, the annual USO dance and senior prom, and Senior Games.

Hallisey said one woman who attended the senior prom had two strokes prior to the event and recovered to step onto the dance floor.

“‘I haven't danced with my husband in five years,'” Hallisey recalled the woman saying.

Rudy Ujhazy of Leet, who will turn 82 in August, has been a member of the Y for about 40 years, along with his wife and four grown children.

“I really started taking advantage of it not long ago,” Ujhazy said. “We've met a lot of really nice people. I wanted to get a ‘six-pack' in the gym but used too many heavy weights and hurt my shoulder. Rather than stopping everything, I joined the Hinges and Twinges swimming group,” which eventually led him to the Sterling Circle. The camaraderie he has found in the group is why he keeps coming back, he said.

“People go to Florida to live in resorts for older folks when they could just stay here — except here, we don't dance in the streets — yet,” he said with a wink.

Mary Sweet, 79, of Moon joined the Sterling Circle about a year ago.

“It sounded interesting and I thought I might see my friends there — and if not, I'd get them to join. And they did just that,” Sweet said.

She has been going to the YMCA for three or four years and taking advantage of warm-water exercise for her arthritis.

Sweet has celiac disease and can't eat just anything, so for luncheons, the staff “ordered a special menu for me.”

Fryz is one of the staffers who made Sweet feel welcomed.

“This is the type of place you fall in love with. Seniors have a special place in my heart,” said Fryz, who first started at the Y as a volunteer. “To exercise their minds is another level. Here, they're socializing. They're not sitting in front of a TV.”

Even romance has bloomed among the group members, “though they don't profess it,” Fryz said.

To be part of Sterling Circle does not require being a member of the YMCA and most events are free. Members are being asked to take a covered dish to a picnic planned for July 15 in Henle Park in Leetsdale, however, and beginning in September, the monthly luncheons will have a small fee because of increased registrations and minimal space, Hallisey said.

Group members will have to pay $3 and non-members, $5.

Members range in age from 55 up to Joan Augustine of Sewickley, who celebrated her 90th birthday with a party with circle members.

Sterling Circle allows the organization to meet a need for keeping seniors active and engaged, Sewickley Valley YMCA CEO Trish Hooper said.

“We give them a forum to communicate, bond and grow,” she said.

Hallisey said the most rewarding part of her involvement in the group is getting to know its members.

“They are easy to relate to and they really like to have fun. I can't wait until I can retire and join them.”

Mya Koch is news editor of the Sewickley Herald. You can reach her at 412-324-1403 or

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