Just about 53 years ago, Bill and Barbara Eltzroth went on a blind date in California. Bill was in the U.S. Navy, stationed aboard a tanker ship. He was born in Indiana. Barbara was born in Bellingham and was visiting the west coast. They were together for one week and decided to get married. “And they thought it wouldn’t last,” noted Bill Eltzroth with a knowing grin.
“Being married is a 24/7 job," said Bill. "We have learned to agree to disagree about some things. We’ve had our ups and downs."
“Activities together are good," said Barbara. "But you need separate activities too.” So, among other things, she spends time as an organist at a local Bellingham church.
Both serve on the board of Bellingham Elder Services Group (BESG) – Bill as President and Barbara as a member of the Board of Directors. “We’re pretty much on the same page about the Senior Center,” says Bill.
BESG is a tax-exempt, fund-raising organization formed to help support the Senior Center beyond the municipal budget. It currently has more than one thousand members. Bill is going into his fourth year as president; Barbara has been on the board since 2009 and pulled Bill into the organization.
“He didn’t think he was a ‘senior’ and was reluctant to get involved,” explains Barbara.
“A man couldn’t ask for a better board than the one we have; it is a working board--everybody pitches in,” says Bill. BESG puts on trips to locations including Maine and Pennsylvania to visit interesting places to shop, eat, and sight-see. They also run the popular trips to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Each month, BESG hosts a birthday celebration (which often attracts 60 and more seniors). People 90 and older with a birthday in that month are invited to the luncheon free of charge. A few attendees over the years have hit the 100-year-old mark or more.
BESG members pay dues of $5 per year. Along with generous individual donations throughout the year, the total contribution to the Senior Center is substantial. The COA, which actually runs the Center, is funded by the Town of Bellingham and also receives money from the state and grants from various organizations.
“Things I’ve seen and didn’t like, I’ve changed,” says Bill. About the board, he says, “They all respect you enough to back you up. They may disagree sometimes, but we talk about it and find ways to work together.”
There’s a plan afoot to expand the Senior Center, and BESG will be a contributor. Bill would like to dedicate a room to BESG, ideally the kitchen, so the group could purchase all of the appliances.
Bill spent much of his working life driving tanker trucks and hauling chemicals across the eastern U.S. Barbara spent 37 years working at different banks in Bellingham and grew up near the Baptist church in the center of town.
They’re planning a vacation to the Bahamas in November (Bill’s favorite spot; Barbara’s is Las Vegas). Over the years, they’ve rented motorhomes and flown and cruised by ship to visit interesting spots.
“We’ve done a lot,” says Bill. “If we had the money, then we went.”