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Area residents over 55 sign up for annual sports, arts festival
JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff Paul and Gladys McLarnon stand outside of their home near Laurel. The couple has participated in the annual Senior Sports and Arts Festival for the past 10 years. This year, Gladys will compete in bowling and golfing. Paul will compete in bowling. The festival is set to start this weekend.

Gladys McLarnon is tight-lipped about her status as a bowler. She never mentions she's a member of the Laurel bowling Hall of Fame.

McLarnon will reveal her bowling average of 123, and that she was honored last month at the Montana State Women's Bowling Association state tournament for competing in 50 state tournaments. She and fellow bowler Cec Kiefer of Bozeman rolled the first balls of the tournament on April 5. McLarnon picked up her first bowling ball in 1948.

Still, she plays it down.

"I'm not crazy about bowling like some people," she said. "But I like it. It's good to get out and mingle with people."

McLarnon, a retired teacher, will also say she plans to compete in this year's Senior Sports and Arts Festival in bowling and golf. This will be the 10th year that she and husband Paul, who live together just outside of Laurel, have participated in the festival. Paul, who retired from the railroad industry in 1974, plans to stick solely to bowling this year.

Although she doesn't remember exactly how she found out about the festival a decade ago, McLarnon said the couple has signed up to compete with close friends for the last few years.

* * * Over at Deaconess Billings Clinic, Bobbi Roberts is watching as months of coordinating will come together starting May 17. Roberts, the coordinator of the Senior Life Partners program, has been helping with the festival for 15 years — almost as long as the event's 19-year run.

"Next year will be big," she said. "It will be 20 years old."

The planning for each festival typically begins in June, just days after the previous event ends.

"We do a survey at the awards dinner at the end and ask everyone what other events they would like to have added," Roberts explained. "We've wanted to add something each year and have been successful with that."

This year, five new activities — horseshoes, Heritage Trail biking, Yahtzee, bingo and poker — have been included in an already long list of popular events. Each activity was voted in by committee.

More information

The 19th annual Senior Sports and Arts Festival, sponsored by Deaconess Billings Clinic, is scheduled for May 17-22 and is open to anyone 55 and older. Social activities include a kickoff buffet, crafts and fine arts reception and awards dinner. Recreational events include tennis, bowling, golf, cribbage, pinochle, pool, culinary arts and line dancing. This year, new events include horseshoes, Heritage Trail biking, Yahtzee, bingo and poker.

To verify registration or for more information, call Senior Life Partners at 657-4400 or (800) 252-1246.

Sponsorship and location are key to pulling off each activity successfully. Roberts said each event has its own site, sponsors and volunteers.

"Many sponsors have been helping out for years," she said. "As far as something like bowling, if we didn't have Fireside Lanes or the volunteers there, we wouldn't have anyone to score."

Roberts gave similar examples with the Lake Hills Golf Club and St. John's Lutheran Home, the new location of the Fun Walk.

Although golfing and bowling are the most popular events during the festival, Roberts said there is an event for almost every interest.

"Not everyone likes to do physical things," she said. "So there are things for people who like to cook, sew and do crafts. My favorite is the culinary arts, because I volunteer as a 'taster.' "

The social activities, which everyone registered can attend, include a kickoff buffet and an awards dinner at the end of the five-day festival. Although first, second and third places are presented in each event, the festival stresses participation over competition.

Roberts said participants range from the minimum age of 55 up to 96 years old, and women sign up equally as often as men. An average of 450 seniors sign up every year. Last year, there were 462 participants, and Roberts has seen that number run as high as 490.

"There's more people all the time," she said. "We encourage people to get out and meet someone who likes to do the same things they do. This is a great opportunity for seniors in Billings to get out and do that."

For next year's 20th anniversary, Roberts said table tennis and swimming are already in the works.

* * * Back at their Laurel home, McLarnon's husband points out several of his wife's bowling trophies. There aren't many left, he explained, since she donated the bulk of them to a charity that recycles and gives them to children.

"But we've had a few ribbons at the final awards dinner (at the Senior Sports and Arts Festival)," Paul said. "It's seems like we've won something nearly every year.

"And you always feel better if you win," he joked.

McLarnon pointed out that she looks at the festival more for fun than competition.

"I just think it's great," she said. "Older people can get out when they might not want to compete with younger people."

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