Pittsfield’s Ralph J. Froio Senior Center celebrated its 25th anniversary Tuesday with a ribbon cutting for the restoration of its iconic marquee.
When Pittsfield’s Council on Aging was formed in 1956, it was confined to a three-room office on a side street. Theresa Bianchi is the chair of the council and its senior member, with more than 30 years’ experience.
“With really the foresight and the vision of Ralph Froio, who our center is named after, who was a remarkable community advocate — especially for seniors," said Bianchi. "And someone who also was a union leader, looked out for working families. He knew that in order to grow, we needed to expand.”
And expand they did.
“Ann Wojtkowski was mayor at the time, and of course, as an engineer, she gravitated towards restoring one of the most symbolic buildings that we have in downtown, because we wanted to keep it local,” Bianchi said.
Just a block away, on North Street, sat the empty Capitol Theater — once a bustling cinema with 1,350 seats. With the city’s backing, the theater was restored, and the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center opened in its new home on October 11th, 1993.
“And so today, we’re highlighting our center," said Bianchi. "We’re celebrating the kind of programs and services that we’ve grown to love, and one that we recognize as important for the future.”
“This is one of the best, in the state of Massachusetts," said Vincent Marinaro, the executive director of the center.
“I think in every community, the senior center is just vital," he said. "Because of the fact that we have so many activities, and basically every activity is designed to help our seniors live longer, healthier lives, because they’re socializing and they’re not isolated.”
Marinaro estimates the center serves around 125 seniors a day, but it provides services to the 10,000 seniors who live in Pittsfield — and beyond.
“Because we’re open to anyone in Berkshire County that wants to join. There’s no charge to join. The only cost is a $4 fee for a parking sticker, for an annual parking sticker," said Marinaro. "Other than that, it’s just the cost of maybe — if they have a yoga class, they might pay $3 for a yoga class, which is very reasonable.”
The center has served a variety of purposes for Pittsfielders.
“About a month of two ago we had a fire at the white terrace apartments, and we came down and sheltered the folks until they could get alternate housing," said Marinaro. "So we do it all.”
The center offers dance classes, quilting groups, book clubs, and countless other activities to seniors — as well as stepping beyond its walls to offer advocacy.
“I consider us like a birdfeeder," Marinaro told WAMC. "We’re here, and the people come, and they feed, and they get information, and they get whatever they need from us.”
“The last movie I came to at the Capitol Theater — my father was an usher here, after he retired from the GE — was the movie ‘Cleopatra,’" said Mary Gloria. "I’ll never forget it. And they were lined up all the way down to Linden Street.”
Gloria is a lifelong Pittsfielder. She worked at the Crane Paper company before having three children, and she’s been coming to the Froio Center since the day it opened in 1993. Why?
“Because it’s a lifesaver,” she said.
Gloria was seated at a packed table of fellow seniors.
“A very sociable place to come, a very nice place to come — everybody’s got the same problems, everybody’s lost a loved one, and we’re all the same,” said Gloria.
The City of Pittsfield has budgeted $223,000 to undertake a restoration of the center’s iconic marquee that still bears the name “Capitol” from its former incarnation. The plan is to replace its lights and remove its lead paint.