by Barbara Sherf

Members of the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment (CHCE), known for many years as the ChestnutHill Senior Center are still reeling from a letter sent last week, announcing the closing of the center that has served area senior citizens since 1978.

At the regular Monday morning Craft Group, eight crafters shared stories and commiserated about the end of an era.

Rina Fesnack, who has lived in Chestnut Hill for 83 years, was celebrating her 86th birthday at the center.

“I remember when we met on Rex Avenue, before moving to Chestnut Hill Village,” she said, as her friends gathered around to sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out candles on a cake. “I have a lot of good memories. I’m going to miss this place.”

While the Center on the Hill at the Presbyterian Church will try to accommodate classes, center director Jackie Yorko admitted that it will not be able to give the seniors space to “hang out.”

“We will host as many classes as possible in our space, and the instructors will be treated as independent contractors,” Yorko said. “As for a space to simply hang out, we cannot provide that to them, and I know a lot of them will miss that socialization.”

At the CHCE, Mary Zell, who has worked there for seven years, attributed the closing to the economy, grants not coming through, and a dip in membership.

“The financial situation hasn’t happened overnight, but the decision was made at the last board meeting,” she said. “It was a combination of the economy, the grants not coming through and membership is down. Many of our members are moving into retirement communities or to be closer to their adult children. It’s sad. I really enjoyed coming to work here everyday.”

Board president Marilyn M. Paucker commented briefly before her plane departed from Boston to Philadelphia.

“It was not an easy decision, but many of the resources provided only by the center at one time are now available throughout the larger community,” Paucker said. “We feel we have fulfilled our mission to provide classes and services to adults in Chestnut Hill and the Northwest community. It is with a sense of regret that the board made this decision.”

The CHCE activities will continue through Dec.22, and then the doors at 8431 Germantown Ave. will close. The group moved into its new location in March 2008. Before that it was at Chestnut Hill Village for just over 11 years.

Zell had only good things to say about the center’s landlord, Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties.

“He gave us a really good deal and enabled us to be in this location,” she said. “He has been very generous and a great landlord.”

Zell said the center’s annual budget is approximately $100,000 a year for rent, salaries and utilities.

While the crafters commiserated and tried to figure out their next steps, the phone rang off the hook, and Zell sat at the front desk answering the difficult questions.

Mary Schinn, of Fort Washington, came in to get information about the CHCE for her mother.

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but the center is closing,” said Zell, trying to compose herself. “I can give you some resources to check into, but we will not be here,”

Paucker, who stopped at the center following her plane ride, said, “Personally, I would be dancing in the streets if an angel came forward with gold, frankincense and money to keep the center alive and help to move it in a new direction.”

“We close on a positive note, though, and I must thank the staff, our board, members, volunteers and greater Chestnut Hill community for their support these many years,” she added. “Finally, I send a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Richard Snowden for giving us this jewel of a home on Germantown Avenue.”

Barbara Sherf is a freelance writer, personal historian and speech coach. She can be reached at 215-233-8022 or

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