TEMPLE TERRACE – Christmas isn’t simply for kids.
Seniors who frequent the Omar K. Lightfoot Recreation Center recently rejoiced in the spirit of the season with a gift exchange, a potluck luncheon – and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
This year’s annual affair drew about 60 men and women, dressed in their finest holiday fashions and ready to celebrate the merriment and goodwill of Christmas with friends.
Michelle Wilkinson, a recreation leader with the Temple Terrace Leisure Services Department, said everyone is given the option of partaking in the $5-and-under gift exchange in which participants play the “Dirty Santa” game, whereby someone can “steal” another person’s present.
“It’s all in fun and they seem to really enjoy it,” said Wilkinson, who also noted that those who didn’t bring covered dishes for the potluck luncheon were welcome to pay $5 for the meal that included ham, compliments of the city.
All area residents 65 and older may attend the center’s Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, regardless of whether they are recreation center members, Wilkinson added.
Kelly Ahern, employed as a recreation leader for the city, said the Christmas party attendees especially enjoy having their photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“They like to have pictures to give to their families,” she said.
Sporting a sparkly red sweater, silver-haired Ada Garmon sat on Santa’s lap as photographer Julie Vaccaro, also a city employee, snapped her photo.
Afterward, she returned to her seat with that same broad smile on her face.
“This is a very nice occasion,” she said. “It’s fun to be together, especially to celebrate Christ’s birthday.”
Clara Esparza brought along her sister, Evelyn Esparza from Mexico City.
“This is so much fun and I’ve met so many new friends here,” Clara Esparza said. “It’s a wonderful center and we’re very lucky to have it.”
Bill Cheeseman of Carrollwood and Pam Pepin of Temple Terrace have donated their services as Santa and Mrs. Claus at the center’s senior Christmas party for several years.
The duo met while paramedics with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and paired up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus following their retirement.
“It’s fun because the spirit of Christmas is magical, no matter what the age,” said Pepin, who has accompanied Cheeseman as Mrs. Claus on 32 occasions.
Cheeseman, who noted he has logged 82 gigs during his 32 years of playing jolly Old St. Nicholas, called the role “exhilarating.”
“To see the joy I see on people’s faces is priceless,” he said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.