by Joni Astrup
For 27 years as the senior center coordinator in Elk River, Sue Kostanshek has enjoyed helping people.
Sometimes she was able to connect a shy person to a group so they could meet new friends, help seniors link up with various services or see computer volunteers teach seniors how to e-mail their grandchildren.
“Every day you have the opportunity to help others and that’s what I always liked best about the job,” Kostanshek said.
A respiratory therapist who later went back to school to become a registered nurse, she said she’s always been in jobs helping people.
“I’ve always said if you can do one thing each day to make someone’s day better, then we’ve had a good day,” she said.
Kostanshek, who retired in June, will carry that philosophy into retirement.
She already is a RSVP volunteer and serves on that entity’s advisory council in St. Cloud.
She and her husband plan to volunteer together for Elk River Senior Dining and she intends to volunteer in Princeton, where they live, as a reading volunteer and at the nursing home.
With five children and six grandchildren, Kostanshek said she also hopes to be a better grandma.
Taking some classes, traveling and cleaning closets are also in her retirement plans.
When Kostanshek was hired as Elk River’s senior center coordinator in 1985, the activities for seniors were simple and few.
They consisted of staples like bingo, “500” card games, ceramics, a monthly potluck and a monthly meeting of the Golden Age Club.
Twenty-seven years later, seniors have a lot more choices. Classes range from jewelry- and card-making to a variety of card games to more physically active programs like fitness classes and line dancing.
How are seniors today different from those of a generation ago?
“I don’t really think there’s a whole lot of difference except that seniors today are a lot younger than when I started,” Kostanshek said. “There are more young retirees and so you have to find programs that interest that type of person.”
Seniors today not only often retired earlier than seniors of a previous generation but seem younger as well, she said, adding: “Even the older seniors seem more active and are interested in many more things than they used to be.”
Fitness classes are some of the most popular courses now.
The card game Smear also “packs people in,” she said.
More traditional activities like bingo and “500” continue to be offered at the senior center at 350 Evans. In fact, Kostanshek said they only recently ended the long-running ceramics class as attendance dwindled.
Many of the other classes are offered at the activity center at 413 Proctor Ave. That site is the former Elk River Library. It was converted into an activity center for people age 55 and older in 2007 after a new library opened near Lake Orono.
The activity center has proven to be a popular place.
“We had no idea what to expect and every year we have more and more people participate. It’s been the most amazing thing to see it grow like that. People love to go there,” Kostanshek said.
People have told her it’s a friendly and fun place to go to.
“Whenever I would hear that, it made me very happy and proud that people felt that way,” she said.
Asked if she picked up any pearls of wisdom from the seniors she’s met over the years, she cited this: “There is nothing more precious than your friendships.”
It made such an impact on Kostanshek she wrote it down and kept it on her bulletin board for years.
Many years affecting many people’s lives
Kostanshek’s retirement party was June 7, held first at the senior center and then at the activity center.
She called it “an amazing day.”
She also was honored at the June 18 Elk River City Council meeting, where Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker thanked her for 27 years of service and her effect on many lives.
Added: Mayor John Dietz: “She’s done a tremendous job.”