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The comforts of being an elder

The elders and youngsters gathered last Friday in Little Boston to celebrate the opening of the new S
The elders and youngsters gathered last Friday in Little Boston to celebrate the opening of the new S'Klallam elders center.
— image credit: Tiffany Royal/Staff Photo

LITTLE BOSTON — The old Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal elders center served its purpose well — it was a place for the elders to gather, eat lunch together and to work on projects to help raise money for one of their trips to other tribal reservations. It was functional.

But now that the new elders center, the most recently constructed building within the tribe’s House of Knowledge campus, has been completed, many agree it far surpasses the comforts of the old one.

Made of a combination of Douglas fir and tight knot western red cedar, the 3,775-square-foot space is big enough for nearly a dozen large dining tables and features a full-size kitchen, restrooms, an office, a lounge area with overstuffed leather chairs and a two-sided fireplace, plus large windows on three sides of the main gathering room, allowing as much natural light into the room as possible.

During a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony March 10, many of the tribe’s elders, as well as those who have been supporting the House of Knowledge project since its inception five years ago, were among the first to enjoy lunch in the new building.

“This is really going to open the door for many opportunities for our elders,” said the tribe’s elder services coordinator Sue Hanna, noting the center provides more space for activities.

Port Gamble elder Ted George said it was an honor to be a part of the community and this new chapter for the tribe. He also hopes the younger generation will follow in the steps of its elders.

“They contribute and they work hard,” George said of the community’s approximately 90 seniors, who include tribal members ages 55 and older. “I think the real source of our future rests within the hearts, thoughts and minds of our elders.”

Conrad Sullivan, an active elder who delivers meals to seniors, takes them shopping and gives them rides to the tribal center when they need it, is thrilled with the new facility.

“The kitchen (doesn’t) even compare to this one,” he said as noted that new kitchen has a walk-in storage area.

He also noticed at the old location that not all the elders would come to each lunch and visit — most usually took their lunches and left.

“I’m hoping more elders will utilize the building,” he said. “And more elders will come to lunch instead of take out lunch.”

Elder Irene Purser said a core group of seniors is together every day at the center, usually doing crafts to raise money for the trips they take to other reservations throughout the year.

“We’ve been wanting this for a long time,” Purser said.

She also hopes the time the elders will spend in the new location will not only be for visiting but for teaching, too.

“I could see a lot of our time in here with young people,” Purser said.

The new center was built within the House of Knowledge complex, a $4.2 million four-building campus project that includes a longhouse, education and career center and the elders center. The tribe is expected to start construction on a new library later this year.

“Erecting a building of this size is really quite an undertaking,” said Tribal Chairman Ron Charles.

Funding for the elders center came from various agencies and organizations, including the Port Gamble Housing Authority, a HUD-Indian Community Block Grant, Medina Foundation, Puyallup Tribe, United States Department of Agriculture and Muckleshoot Tribe. Saxas Construction, a Chehalis Tribe-owned company, constructed the building under the leadership of Johnston Architects, which has been the primary architect on the entire HOK project.

“It’s been exciting,” said managing partner Marc Pevoto of Johnston Architects. “You can really tell they are excited.”

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