Senior Center’s new director speaks

Published 10:00 am Thursday, November 18, 2021

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LANETT — Sandra Thornton is a two-city person.

“I love West Point and Lanett,” she said. “I grew up and went to school in Lanett. It will always be a special place to me. I live in West Point and have been on a city council for a number of years. You never know where God will lead you in life. My heart is big enough to serve both cities.”

As the new director of the Lanett Senior Center, things have come full circle for Thornton.

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“Being here is a homecoming for me,” she said. “I grew up on 14th Avenue within walking distance of here. I started first grade in this building and had many meals in this lunchroom.”

Lanier High School closed in 1969 but remained open for a number of years as the junior high school for the Lanett city system. The lunchroom area and some nearby classrooms now serve as the Lanett Senior Center. The nearby James A. Hardy gym is a busy place these days with activities of the Lanett Recreation Department. Seniors who come to the center early take the short walk there to exercise.

“We are fortunate to have a climate-controlled gym for use by the seniors, and they love it,” Thornton said. “It is an honor and a blessing to be here. I just love interacting with these seniors. Mattie Walker, who’s 93, told me I look a lot like my grandparents. She knew them. Staley Hill Jr. told me that my dad painted their family home at one time.”

Thornton has been the director since the first of November. She succeeded Tammy Hollis, who retired several weeks ago but is helping her learn all the paperwork that goes with the job.

The Lanett Senior Center has approximately 20 Lanett residents in the 60 and over age group who are active participants. They come to the center on Mondays through Fridays to have a nutritious meal, socialize with each other and exercise in the gym. They love playing card games and dominoes.

“Dominoes is an event in the Masters Games, and they like to stay sharp for that,” Thornton said.

Meals are delivered five days a week to 45 homebound seniors. Thornton worked part-time for the city’s transit program, which delivers the meals, before becoming the senior center director. She has also worked for the Lanett Police Department’s criminal investigation division (CID).

Thornton has survived two major health scares. She’s a breast cancer survivor and lost many close friends to Covid-19.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after losing a job she had held for many years. She didn’t have any health insurance at the time, something that delayed her treatments. She credits the late Deborah Dunn on having been a rock for her in dealing with breast cancer. Dunn was dealing with it while serving as an assistant principal at Callaway Middle School in LaGrange.

“Everybody needs a Deborah when they are dealing with this,” she said. “I had two of them, Deborah Dunn and my sister, (Lanett City Clerk) Deborah Gilbert.”

Dunn advised her to get help though the state’s Medicaid program. Thornton enrolled in it, and it drastically reduced the costs of treatment.

“I got a bill for $39,000 for genetic testing and another one for $67,000,” she said. “The treatments can be $6,000 each, and the injections $3,000 each. Insurance I got through health care marketing took care of it all.”

The hardest thing for Thornton to deal with during this period was to ask for help. She had always been someone who helped others.

“I was on the taking end this time and felt embarrassed,” she said.

The late Oscar Crawley, who was dealing with a cancer crisis of his own at the time, was very helpful to her.

“He told me it was time for me to receive help,” he said. “The people of the community were wonderful to me, and I will never forget them for it. My church, Evening Springs Baptist, was so supportive of me in this crisis.”

Sadly, two of the people most helpful to her, Dunn and Crawley, lost their battles with cancer.

“I encourage everyone to welcome the support and advice you can receive from people like Deborah Dunn and Oscar Crawley,” Thornton said.

A scholarship is given each year in memory of Deborah Dunn to a Troup County student who wants to major in biology in college. That’s the subject she taught in high school before getting into administration.

Covid was a different kind of crisis.

“During its peak, it seemed like every day we were losing two or three good friends to it that we’d known for a long time,” she said. “It was so depressing. We had to go through a long shutdown period, and it seemed like we were spraying down everything with Lysol for the longest time.”

Because she was working for the criminal investigation division at the time she was able to get vaccinated early.

“I felt it to be such a blessing to be vaccinated,” she said. “I recently got the third booster shot.”

Thornton plans to have speakers coming to talk to them about their health and the benefits they are entitled to.