When I started today’s column I was remembering back to when the center first decided we wanted to tell everyone about all the things that go on at the Shawnee Senior Center because we felt like we were “the best kept secret in town.”

When I started today’s column I was remembering back to when the center first decided we wanted to tell everyone about all the things that go on at the Shawnee Senior Center because we felt like we were “the best kept secret in town.” And, surprise surprise, we didn’t want to be “the best kept secret in town.” The initial discussion brought The Shawnee News-Star into play...and, yes, they said we could do a column (they even named it the “Senior Center Happenings”) and KGFF’s “Mike in the Morning” said he would help too and gave us a weekly time slot, Wednesday morning at 8:35 to announce ourselves to the town.

When I wrote that first column, I didn’t have a clue as to what one was supposed to do or say in a newspaper column about a place where one worked. As a matter of fact, I still don’t, but I did know that I, along with Kate Joyce, our executive director, and the rest of the staff wanted everyone to know what a great place the Shawnee Senior Center is and what we do and have here for seniors in our community.

One of the things we thought was important were the people who came to the center and the reasons they came. Yes, we have a free breakfast and yes we have a pretty good lunch for a minimal amount but the thing that was most important was to be able to get out of the house and socialize with people who liked to do what they liked to do. The pool players like to play pool, not near as much fun by yourself. The domino players like to compete and they need people to play against. The card players can play solitaire for only so long before group card games call their name. Dancing to music on the radio can be fun in your house but it’s much more interesting in a room with a real live band and other people to dance with or watch. And I could go on and on but I won’t.

With that first column I mentioned the people who come here. They’re fascinating. They come from everywhere, some started here, some left here and then came back. We would like you to meet some of the people who come here just for fun. We’ve done some stories about people on our board, some who need volunteers to donate time and one very “cool” guy (Tom Walling) who is a legend in basketball history in Oklahoma.

And today we are gonna tell you about one of our other “cool” senior center citizens.

And just so you know, I am going to try to introduce you to at least one of these “cool” seniors each month. If you don’t know them, I’m sure you can come on down to the center and meet them for yourself.

Today, you are going to meet Betty Cannon Black.

Betty Cannon was born right here in Shawnee. Her dad was a railroad man along with most of the people in Shawnee way back when railroads were the transportation mode for people and freight. Back then, in case you didn’t know (and I certainly didn’t), Shawnee was a hub for trains with both the Sante Fe RR and the Rock Island RR meeting here. When hard times hit the railroads, Betty’s dad moved them to a small company town in California where he had found a job working for a lumbering company.

While in Scotia, California, the local all-male band needed some majorettes to accompany them on their band trips, and Betty was one of four fifth graders selected.

For one of the big parades, they attended each young lady was paid $.25 (a quarter) for their time and trouble.

Her family stayed there until she was in seventh grade when her dad got a job with a railroad in San Francisco and her family moved there. She went to junior high there and again played clarinet in the band and was also the drum majorette. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and life in San Francisco changed. There were blackouts every night. People living in the biggest city closest to Hawaii were scared and nightly scanned the skies for planes. Life for Betty had changed.

Shortly thereafter, Betty’s dad was moving his family back to Shawnee when his longtime seniority with the Rock Island line brought him back home. Spending her last three and a half years at Shawnee High School was quite an undertaking for Betty. Technically, she was a stranger in her own home town. She played the clarinet in the Pride of Shawnee High School Marching Band and she was also the drum majorette. (The picture I posted of the majorette on the bulletin board is the young Betty Cannon Black – did you guess right?) She graduated in 1947, but before high school ended for Betty, she had one more trip to make.

The Pride of Shawnee High School Marching Band was invited to play at the Memphis Cotton Carneval Festival in Memphis, Tennessee. It was more than four days of parades every morning, band concerts in different parts of the town every day and fun meeting the band members from all over the southwest part of the country the rest of the time. The band stayed at the King Cotton Hotel for their stay in Memphis and — these are Betty’s words not mine — “It was like Mardi Gras in New Orleans only in Memphis.”

Betty married Wandell “Firpo” Black in 1955. He was from Asher and apparently Wandell didn’t like his first name and preferred the nickname he took from a boxer named – Firpo. Betty and Firpo were married for 41 years before he passed. They had one daughter, Nancy, who lives in Denver and plays the flute in the symphony orchestra and the Denver Concert Band. Betty also has two granddaughters, Nichole and Anna, and one great-granddaughter, June. Betty has a brother, Bob, here in Shawnee and a sister, Karla. She also has a stepdaughter, Cheryl, and two step grandkids, Valerie and Jim.

Betty plays cards at the center almost every day (Monday and Fridays for sure) so you can see her in the craft room with the rest of the posse any one of those afternoons. If you don’t remember that’s where they are, you can hear their laughter throughout the building so just follow the sounds. Stop in and say “hi,” meet the players and maybe even join in for a hand or two.

Remember, Kate Joyce will be joining “Mike in the Morning” on KGFF Radio (FM 100.9 or AM 1450) on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 8:35 a.m. for their weekly senior center update. They are quite the pair early in the morning.

And remember at the Shawnee Senior Center, “age is just a number.” The website is SHAWNEESENIORS.ORG and our Facebook page is Shawnee Senior Center.

See you at the center!