Our History

The Senior Center of Jackson Hole has a rich history that started in early 1978. This was when Vera Chaney, Louise Bertschy, and Meta Sternberg met to make plans about forming a group to create plans for a permanent senior citizen facility. Around the same time, Mary Martin, an Agricultural Extension Home Economist (a person trained in home economics working in a county, focusing on nutrition and other agricultural effects on the community), applied for a grant. She successfully received funding under the “Tri-County Senior Services Meal Program for Teton County,” a collaboration between Afton, Dubois, and Jackson.

In November 1978, the Elks Club dining room, kitchen, and office space were leased, with grant funding, to start a senior center. It was reserved from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost $1,000 monthly. A cook was hired, and a meal program was started with a suggested donation of $1. By 1979, Mary Martin had submitted a request to the State Department on Aging to build subsidized rental housing. This resulted in the creation of the Pioneer Homestead Apartments.

At the same time, a second group was formed: Pioneer Homestead Senior Services (PHSS). This group also worked to facilitate funding and a meal program. The Heinburch property at 835 E. Hansen St was purchased. This property included several acres (formerly a junkyard) and a house. As funding became gradually available, the Heinburch residence was remodeled to include a lobby, restrooms, office spaces, a basement kitchen, and a dining room. An addition was constructed in the back to provide more storage space and a basement utility room. A director was hired, which started the Pioneer Homestead Senior Meals Program. The home-delivered meals plan was initiated with support staff, recreational activities, transportation services, and assistance programs.

In 1981, Diana Waterfield was hired as the director of the program. She held this position until 1986. At this time, the activities director, Connie Owen, took over as interim director. Also, in 1996, the Senior Center in Teton County was chosen as an experimental project to introduce In-Home Services. This program immediately flourished and is still running strong today.

By 1993, the Heinburch property had proved inadequate as a senior facility. Several PHSS Board members, Director Connie Owen, Mayor Bill Westbrook, County Commissioner Grant Larson, and Board Chairman Bob Shervin agreed that it was time for a change. With PHSS now serving 750 unduplicated seniors, they had outgrown the current building, a remodeled Boise Cascade house. Connie Owen led the fundraising campaign for a new senior center.

As of 1994, all ties with Pioneer Homestead had been broken. The name was changed to the Senior Center of Jackson Hole. Pioneer Homestead raised the Senior Center rent from $600 to $800. On July 1, 1996, after three years of grueling fundraising and planning, the Senior Center of Jackson Hole opened its doors at 830 E. Hansen. It was built with private donations on land the Senior Center bought from the county for just $1. The grand opening of the 13,000-square-foot, $2 million building was held on August 2 of that year. It was a successful event, with over 500 people in attendance, including elected officials from the town, county, and state.

The team running the show at this time is as follows; Steering Committee for Capital Campaign: Marion Buchenroth, Addie Donnan, Maralyn Larson, Avis Ranck, and Dick Sheahan; Honorary chairpersons: Clifford and Marth Hansen; Chairman of the Board: Bob Shervin; Executive Director: Connie Owen.

By 1997, the Senior Center was receiving additional funding from Old Bill’s Fun Run, which put the organization on a new financial level. In the first year, $63,000 was raised, an incredible amount. Several years after this, the Senior Center continued to win prizes for having the most donors and raising the most money. The Senior Center continued to thrive and expand classes and activities. Tai chi, yoga, exercise classes, monthly dinner parties, out-of-town trips, and picnics were added. The Senior Center also began hosting dances with live music monthly, allowing the dining room to fill with joyful, dancing seniors. Home services, healthcare, and transportation remained as essential as ever.

In 2006, an endowment fund was formed for the center when Anne Dankert left the Senior Center with $600,000 in her will. In 2007, Mary Lou Hansen, the bookkeeper, resigned after 28 years. Her husband, Paul Hansen, took over her position. On December 13 of the same year, the executive director, Connie Owen, retired. She even danced on a table at her retirement party! Becky Zaist took the reins from there and committed to the Senior Center’s mission to help seniors live independently.

In December of 2022, 15 years after Becky started her position, she retired as Executive Director and left the Senior Center in the hands of Rebecca Erskine. She had been the Assistant Director, working directly under Becky since 2017. Rebecca is still the Executive Director today and is working hard to make the Senior Center the best it can be.