By Elizabeth Sias
When Fran Strodtman walked into the Cambridge Senior Activity Center (SACS) more than 30 years ago, the first thing she noticed was the less-than-appealing decor.
She decided right then and there that her first project at SACS would be to remodel and redecorate.
The kitchen that was added on and the blue-and-yellow look is just part of the legacy Strodtman will leave behind when she retires Sept. 1.
A retirement party for the SACS director will be held Saturday, Aug. 20, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Senior Center, 332 3rd Avenue NW. Everyone is invited to come and say farewell.
“I feel the proudest of that of anything that we’ve accomplished here, because it really changed the Senior Center,” she said.
The remodeling is one of her proudest accomplishments of her 31 years with SACS, but Strodtman has many more memories of her time there.
Some fond memories are from the Senior Citizen Proms that were held in years past. Each prom had a theme, and they always decorated the Senior Center, dance floor and all.
“When talking with the people, I learned that most of them had never even gotten to go to their senior prom, or even had one,” she said. “It was fun. We built a ‘stairway to the stars,’ and it was beautiful.”
Before SACS, Strodtman worked at the Senior Federation in Mora, doing photography, writing and outreach for their newspaper. After three years, the grant she was working under was up and she no longer had a job.
At the State Fair during one of her last projects with the Senior Federation, she ran into a woman she knew from Cambridge, who told Strodtman the Senior Center in Cambridge was looking for a coordinator.
Strodtman contacted SACS, and although she was told they were no longer accepting applications, they interviewed Strodtman anyway, and she got the job.
Starting as Senior Dining Coordinator, Strodtman eventually became director of both Senior Dining and the Senior Center. When asked what she has enjoyed most at SACS, Strodtman doesn’t hesitate.
“The people,” she said. “Always the people. When I first started here, I was much younger, and my parents were living down in the Albert Lea area. I was a single mom raising three kids — I didn’t see my folks as often as I would have liked to, so these people were all like parents to me when I started here. I loved it because I needed that. As I got older, I became a grandmother myself, and now I’m one of their peers.”
“It’s been a wonderful experience growing with them and having their backgrounds and hearing their stories,” she added.
Jean Froemming, president of the Isanti County Commission on Aging, which is the umbrella organization over SACS, said Strodtman enjoys working with seniors.
“Fran truly likes and enjoys working with senior citizens, and this passion has served as her career. She provides a friendly welcome to people as they come through the doors because she sincerely cares as their friend, confidant and supporter,” Froemming said. “It has been a pleasure working with Fran. She has formed many friendships through the years.”
Although Strodtman said she will dearly miss working with the seniors, she believes she’s leaving SACS in good hands — Sue Hughes of Ham Lake. Hughes will train with Strodtman for a month before she passes the torch.
In her retirement, Strodtman hopes to move from Bethel to Isanti, and plans to work on three books she’s in the middle of writing. One of them is about growing up in the ‘50s, one is about her time singing with a Native American band and the third is about SACS.
She also has a passion for music, and wants to continue playing piano and keyboard.
Both Froemming and Lewis Leasure, treasurer for the Isanti County Commission on Aging, said it has been a pleasure working with Strodtman.
“Everyone should know that Fran has the welfare of all senior citizens at heart. Over the years she has worked diligently to make the Senior Activity Center a welcoming place and to bring meaningful activities and events that all seniors will enjoy,” Leasure said. “We will surely miss Fran, but we wish her the very best and much happiness in her well deserved retirement.”