Sue Payne and Doris Keener

Sue Payne (left), a 1964 Mount Vernon High School graduate, and Doris Keener (right), a 1968 Danville High School graduate, pose in front of the quilt they made for The Station Break's 'Christmas in July' bazaar. Payne's sister, Judi Clifton, also played a key role in making the queen-sized quilt, which will be raffled off at the fundraiser.

MOUNT VERNON – To people like Sue Payne, The Station Break is more than just a senior center.

Payne began coming to the Howard Street facility eight years ago for the bingo. Over the years, she’s grown to utilize every aspect of the program, from the crafting sessions to the field trips. Payne and her husband are karaoke regulars – “he’s a great singer,” she says – and she spends countless hours quilting alongside some of her best friends.

So, when members of The Station Break’s leadership asked Payne if she’d be willing to make a quilt for the program’s first annual ‘Christmas in July’ bazaar this Saturday, she didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes.’

Payne and two of her closest quilting companions – Judi Clifton and Doris Keener – spent the last three months making a queen-sized, Ohio State-themed quilt to be raffled off at the bazaar. The scarlet-and-grey masterpiece will take center stage on Saturday, when The Station Break will host a day’s worth of activities at its 160 Howard Street location. There will be vendors, food, musical entertainment, a prize raffle and a silent auction.

Knox County Marines Toys for Tots will bring a Mount Vernon fire truck, as well as personnel, to the facility that day. There will be a toy collection site for those who want to donate new, unwrapped toys to the charity, which distributes the gifts to needy local children each Christmas.

The Station Break’s ‘Christmas in July’ bazaar will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. All proceeds from the raffle and silent auction will go toward the senior center’s general fund.

The Station Break decided to launch the fundraiser this year as a way to help fund crucial improvement projects, such as resurfacing the center’s parking lot and filling in potholes. According to executive director Meredith Lowther, the organization has seen a dip in financial support from the county over the last decade, which has left less money for costly maintenance projects.

“We are holding this event to raise money to benefit our area’s seniors,” Lowther said of the bazaar. “But at the same time, we want to reach out to others in our community who also could benefit from the day."

The Station Break is a non-profit organization. It receives state and federal funding each year, which generally pays for the daily meals and transportation services the center provides. The Station Break also receives money through the Knox County Senior Levy, which it uses to fund additional projects.

Each senior citizen agency in the county can apply for money through the tax levy, Lowther explained. As more senior-serving organizations have cropped up locally over the past decade, the amount of money available for each agency has dwindled.

Lowther said The Station Break’s overall budget this year fell around $50,000 short of what it was 12 years ago, when she started working for the organization.

“Over the years, it’s been a little tight,” Lowther said. “More and more people are bidding into it because as long as they’re touching seniors, then they can apply for that money. But there’s only so much in that pot. So the more people that start applying for it makes everybody get a little less portion as we go.”

As a result, projects like fixing The Station Break’s parking lot have lagged behind. After a brutal winter, the lot shows substantial wear near high-traffic areas.

This Saturday’s fundraiser is an opportunity for the community to give back to The Station Break, so that it can make up for money lost through the levy.

“It’s probably not going to be a big pot of money,” Lowther said, “but at least it’s a starting point for us in getting our name out there.”

The Station Break serves senior citizens from across the county in a number of ways. The organization delivers hot, dietician-approved lunches year-round to those who may not be able to leave their home. Workers delivered close to 66,000 meals last year, Lowther said. The same meals are also offered on-site at noon on weekdays for seniors who are not homebound.

Seniors can participate in activities before or after lunch, such as games, puzzles, karaoke, crafts, quilting and educational presentations. The Station Break also offers transportation and homemaker services, along with monthly parties and occasional field trips.

Both Payne and Keener have utilized The Station Break for nearly a decade. They believe the center provides a crucial support system for local seniors.

“It’s a place for them to come and get fellowship and support,” said Keener, a lifelong Danville resident. “They look forward to coming.”

Many of the residents who come to The Station Break have lost a loved one and would otherwise be alone. After arriving, they sometimes meet friends they hadn’t seen since high school. They form relationships with their ‘tablemates,’ and sometimes find love. Several people have gotten engaged and married at the center, Lowther said.

“But most of them don’t come here looking for another spouse, they come here to just socialize,” Lowther said. “It’s just a matter of socialization – getting them out, keeping them active – because when they get to the point where they’re sitting at home, depression sets in, loneliness sets in, and they usually don’t last too long after that. So if they can get out and socialize, be active – because we do take them on trips and stuff like that – it keeps them active and I think it lets them live longer.”

On Wednesday, The Station Break buzzed with conversation as Payne and Keener took a break from their next quilting project. They were knee-deep in a quilt for the county fair, which is less than two weeks away.

“When it gets pressured down to close to being done, you work a lot harder,” Payne said.

Both Payne and Keener are longtime quilters. Still, pulling off the Ohio State quilt took a team effort. From cutting out the block-Os to knotting the squares together, multiple seniors played a role.

“We just all worked together,” Keener said with a smile. “Whatever needs done, we do it.”

It’s these experiences – where seniors can work together to accomplish a task, and become friends along the way – that make The Station Break a vital piece to the Knox County community, Lowther said.

And as Ohio’s population grows older – by 2020, those ages 60 and older will outnumber those under 20, according to U.S. census data – Lowther believes The Station Break will play an even bigger role. The center may need to look toward alternative funding sources as its client base grows.

“I already have seen a little bit of an increase this year,” Lowther said. “We’ll just have to take it when it comes.”

Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.