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Dottie Baker, 78, who volunteers her services at Lafayette Senior Recreation Center, is scaling back her services after 20 years as she tells about the group during an interview at her home in Orinda, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Baker says she still plans on attending regular functions and will continue to publish the monthly newsletter from her home computer. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

The Lafayette Senior Recreation Center's monthly bulletin is chock-full of listings for upcoming activities such as bingo, bridge and yoga.

Also sprinkled throughout the newsletter are memorials dedicated to members who have recently died — and pleas for volunteers to help those who remain stay active at the center.

Two of those volunteers responsible for keeping this group of nearly 100 seniors active for the past two decades have curtailed their service, for different reasons.

Dottie Baker's tireless hours of planning special trips for the group are on hold because of the economy, and Lorraine Peterson said her body is just wearing out.

Baker, 78 and Peterson, 88, are both heroes to those they have served. Both recently were honored by the rec center board and members for their years of service.

"Thank God for both of these ladies," said center board President Hollie Howell, 53, who has been involved with the rec center the past two years. "Thank God we still have Dottie, who is still able to attend and wants to continue to partially volunteer. Because if she were gone completely, I don't know if there would have been enough enthusiasm among the rest of the people who volunteer that want to stick it through.


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"Parents will only live more independently if they can keep the juices going both mentally and physically and having purpose to their life," continued Howell, a Moraga resident. "That's the essence of the reason why these women's contributions are inspiring, and why it's really important for these organizations to continue to thrive."

Peterson and her husband, George, joined the Lafayette Senior Recreation Center in 1979, when the members' average age was 55 and activities and trips took place almost weekly. George Peterson died in 1997; Lorraine then began to fill her lonely days with senior center activities and helping out whenever and wherever she could. She surrounded herself with friends going through the same kind of loss.

"It was so important to be around people of the same age, having the same difficulties like losing a husband and being alone. It was for the camaraderie to make you feel good, feel welcome and have purpose after such a loss," said Lorraine Peterson, who raised three daughters during her 55-year marriage. "I just started doing little duties here and there, and those accumulated to about 26 duties over the years. My main thing was to set up the catering for our bimonthly luncheons. I'd make about 50 calls to our members to get a head count, order and pick up the food, arrange the tables, just things like that."

Married to her work

Baker spent 42 years in the military as a career retention specialist. She said she was married to her work, but never had a spouse. Baker's only children were her white West Highland terriers Mimi, Alfie and Lilly — the latter having died six months ago. She retired in 1991 and decided to spend her time planning trips for fellow members at the rec center — some day trips to Napa Valley or the San Francisco Opera, or longer ones like her favorite, a cruise to Alaska.

"So many of the members looked forward to these trips because they wouldn't go anywhere otherwise — either they had no one to go with, couldn't pay full price or didn't have the transportation to get around," said Baker, who spent four or five hours a day talking to travel agents, getting senior discounts and organizing the trips. "It has been very rewarding to me to make a contribution to someone else's happiness. I feel like I'm doing the work God has put me on Earth for and to serve others."

Both Peterson and Baker have served on various seats on the senior center board — some years as president, others as vice president and so on — because as the years passed, there were fewer volunteers to fill those officer roles.

But now, Peterson is gone, too. This month, her daughter moved her to Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, an assisted living facility, so they can live closer together. She still hopes to see "the girls" at future luncheons whenever she can.

"My last luncheon (at the Lafayette center) was two months ago. A doctor I had for years and years told me to find a place where I felt comfortable. Every physical ailment I have, all my friends have, too," laughed Peterson. "I just want to enjoy life, be with my girls and play cards with my five (grown) grandsons. I'm just getting older. It's nothing serious. But, I do have to use a walker now to save my breath."

'Never slow down'

Baker said she'll "never slow down." But, since the economy has slowed, fewer seniors are spending their money on trips she worked so hard to plan.

"A lot of people, due to the economy, are working longer and therefore not having the time to get the recreation they need," explained Baker, who looks forward to the economy bouncing back and resuming the trips — next time possibly to Palm Springs. "But, it's important they do because it stimulates the mind and the body and keeps us moving."

Peterson has accompanied Baker on many of those trips in the past, many with her husband. She said she will miss Baker most out of all her friends at the senior center.

"I've loved her for a long time. I'm her flunky. We did lots of things together," Peterson said.

Baker feels the same way. "I couldn't do all this work alone. Lori Peterson was right there with me and helping me. I guess that's why we're considered (heroes) because "... " said Baker, her voice trailing off in modesty. "That's embarrassing."

Added Peterson, "I think as you get older, you automatically want to help people. Dottie and I just stepped in and took over to help our senior friends. Like I said, I was her flunky and she was great. We held it together, together."

DOTTIE BAKER
  • AGE: 78
  • HOMETOWN: Orinda
  • CLAIM TO FAME: Twenty-year volunteer for the Lafayette Senior Recreation Center, spending countless hours organizing group trips at senior discounts for members.
  • QUOTE: "It has been very rewarding to me to make a contribution to someone else's happiness. I feel like I'm doing the work God has put me on Earth for and to serve others."

    LORRAINE "LORI" PETERSON
  • AGE: 88
  • HOMETOWN: Berkeley; lived in Lafayette for 52 years. Lived in Rossmoor for eight years before recently moving to Santa Rosa.
  • CLAIM TO FAME: Volunteer for the Lafayette Senior Recreation Center for the past 20 years, organizing all the catering for the twice-a-month luncheons.
  • FAMILY: Daughters Cheri, 65, Gail, 63 and Jan, 60; husband George died in 1997.
  • QUOTE: "I think as you get older, you automatically want to help people."

    Hometown Heroes, a partnership between Bay Area News Group-East Bay and Comcast, celebrates people in the Bay Area who make a difference in their communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the Hometown Heroes feature aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofits and key causes in the area and create a spirit of giving.
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