97-year-old a regular at senior fitness classes

In 1926, the New York Football Giants opened their second season of existence with a 21-0 win over the Hartford Blues in East Hartford. Frank Pepe’s “apizza” restaurant in New Haven was a year old and sold two pies — tomato and tomato with anchovies. The Model T was the most popular car on the road. And Catherine Connor was born in Springfield, Mass.

The Giants have had their ups and downs, Pepe’s became iconic and expanded the menu, and cars drive on their own. And Catherine? She’s 97, full of life and a regular at the exercise classes at the South End Wellness Senior Center operated by Catholic Charities in Hartford.

Fitness classes at SEWSC, led by instructor Jeffrey Shealey, are three times a week and have the feel of a dance party rather than a workout. With high-energy music blasting, Jeffrey gets the seniors pumping their arms, marching in place, stomping, swaying around the room, clapping, and cheering. And right in front is Catherine, who has lived in Hartford’s South End since 1969.

Catherine Connor with Jeffrey Shealey, who leads a fitness class at the South End Wellness Senior Center three days a week.

“This class is a lot of fun,” said Catherine, who drives herself to the center on Maple Avenue and stays for lunch after working out. “We come for the exercise but we also come for the interaction. … We laugh a lot. And that’s important.”

Catherine started taking Jeffrey’s fitness classes about 10 years ago after a friend recommended she try it and she has only missed “now and then” if she has household chores or appointments. What does her doctor say? Keep going, she said.

The fitness classes, and an exercise room filled with fitness equipment, are just part of the wide variety of programs at the center that keep the seniors fit physically and mentally.

“I think there are many things that appeal to many people here,” Catherine said. “A lot of people are involved with knitting classes and sewing classes and other activities. And there’s a lot of sociability with that because you see a lot of people knitting something or crocheting something and of course you want to know what it is and why they’re doing it.”

The South End center is one of two senior centers that Catholic Charities operates for the city of Hartford. The other is at the Institute for the Hispanic Family on Wadsworth Street. Both offer enriching and rewarding programs and services, including opportunities to socialize, engage in recreational activities, develop new learning experiences, and emphasize health and wellness. Learn more about the services for seniors at www.ccaoh.org/seniors.

Catherine Connor (green sweater at right) with seniors in a fitness class with Jeffrey Shealey last week.
Catherine Connor (second from right, bottom row) during an Easter celebration last spring at the South End Wellness Senior Center in Hartford.