Virgil Clarkson, the longtime Lacey City Councilman and former mayor, remembers when his mother-in-law relocated to the area from Chicago in 1987.
She had been actively involved with a senior center in that city, he said, and she wanted to continue that involvement with the center in Lacey.
But Clarkson, 83, was blunt about the condition of the senior center, which in those days was on Willow Street, just off Lacey Boulevard.
“It was terrible,” Clarkson said, adding that it was “small and falling down.”
Eileen McKenzie Sullivan, the longtime executive director of Senior Services for South Sound, recalls that the roof leaked and the plumbing was sketchy.
“We have to get a better place for seniors,” she remembers Clarkson saying.
It didn’t happen overnight, but once Clarkson joined the council in 1998, he used his role as councilman and mayor to secure funds for the 2003 construction of the 5,000-square-foot Lacey Senior Center at 6757 Pacific Avenue SE, at Woodland Creek Community Park.
Clarkson was back at it again in 2011, raising money to expand the center to 10,000 square feet.
It is that effort, plus Clarkson’s continuing work with seniors, that will be recognized at 4:30 p.m. Thursday when the center is renamed the Virgil S. Clarkson Senior Center. The public is welcome to attend the event.
The center today has become a hub of activity. Clarkson says it is “packed daily.”
The city of Lacey owns the center, but it is managed by Senior Services for South Sound, which also operates the senior center at The Olympia Center.
The center hosts classes for seniors in academic subjects, art, exercise and languages as well as meal services, including those delivered as part of the Meals on Wheels program, Sullivan said.
About 50 to 70 seniors per day have lunch at the center, and 65 to 70 receive a meal via the Meals on Wheels delivery program, she said.
The renaming of the center started with Lacey City Councilman Lenny Greenstein, who said it was a way to honor Clarkson for his work.
“He’s not only a huge advocate for seniors, but he’s been a great mentor to me and a lot of members on the council,” Greenstein said. “He’s the epitome of what you want in a public servant.”
Greenstein wrote a letter to the city’s parks board, suggesting the idea of renaming the senior center, and the board unanimously agreed. They forwarded a recommendation to the city council, and the council also agreed unanimously to the idea.
Clarkson was born in Houston, Texas. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University and served in the Army for about 15 years. His time in the military introduced him to the Northwest because he finished his career at Fort Lawton in Seattle, which is now closed. Following that, he worked for the state Department of Natural Resources and state Department of Transportation until he retired in 1999.
Clarkson has served on the Lacey City Council since 1998. He’s also a three-time mayor and two-time deputy mayor.
Executive Director Sullivan said she once asked Clarkson what inspired him to care for seniors, and he attributed it to his mother, who had a heart for the welfare of older adults.
“I guess it just rubbed off on me,” Clarkson said.