Just Like Family

Published 6:19 pm Friday, July 23, 2021

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Doreen Nelson is the new executive director of the Mower County Senior Center


June 1 was a big day for Doreen Nelson. Not only was it the first day the Mower County Senior Center reopened after being closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also her first day as the new executive director of the center.

“It was exciting,” Nelson said from her office Friday morning. “Everybody was so excited. There were smiles everywhere.”

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Nelson comes to the Senior Center with a solid background in the hospitality industry as well as fitness and business. All of this comes together in the ideal setting for her.

“It encompasses all that I have done in my past and it was just exciting when I saw it,” she said. “It’s all of my background.”

Prior to the Senior Center, Nelson spent two years as director of sales for the Holiday Inn Austin Conference Center after she moved with her husband, current Director of Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry, Kevin Nelson. Before that, she spent 19 years as general manager for Grandstay Hotel and Suites in Perham and 13 years as an executive bank recruiter.

Doreen Nelson has found family since taking over as executive director of the Mower County Senior Center in June. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

While working those jobs, she was a travel agent for 18 years and fitness instructor for 30 years, what Nelson refers to as “my hobby job.”

“I really enjoy working with seniors,” Nelson said. “When I heard about the position and what we do here, that just excited me. I just knew I could help and do good for our community.”

Nelson’s start to the position came just after work was wrapped up on the inside of the Senior Center, which maximized and cleaned the space within.

Now it’s just about getting back up and rolling. The pandemic essentially shuttered the Senior Center, and while some things were able to continue throughout, they weren’t to the level that was seen when the doors were open.

Exercise classes are going again, meals are being served as they had been, programs are open, and advocacy is once again back to near normal operation.

“We’re here, we’re open, and we’re ready to help support and to serve and get people that social aspect that has been greatly missed by everyone,” Nelson said.

That’s not to say everything was quick to start. Both those coming to the Senior Center and those working there had to go through a familiarization process in a way to get to know each other again.

Not only that, the pandemic still hasn’t gone away.

“It was a little bit slower,” Nelson admitted. “It’s just like everybody else. We’re following the CDC, we’re following the recommendations. It ends up being what the individual is comfortable with.”

That doesn’t take away from how nice it is that the center is open. Nelson, like everybody else, is happy to see the center offering activities again. She is taking that excitement and looking to the future and what can be achieved at the Senior Center.

One of the bigger and more immediate tasks Nelson and the Senior Center is working on is the increased use of technology.

“One thing we’re orbiting around and moving forward with is our seniors at age 55 and as they continue to age, they are becoming more techy,” Nelson said. “We need to accommodate seniors that want everything by paper, but also the ones that want to have the tech side of it.”

It is hoped that by the new year, seniors will be able to sign-up for programs online, check people in and have the ability to communicate with the Senior Center through the new software.

That doesn’t mean the Senior Center will be moving away from paper anytime soon, it just means there will be more balance.

Something else Nelson wants to focus on is making sure that the purpose of the Mower County Senior Center is being realized and utilized.

“The other thing I would like to see us do is reach out to the other communities in our county and get the word out there that we are their Senior Center,” she said. “When they come to Austin — they may be for a doctor’s appointment or whatever that may be — we want them to come here.”

With the Senior Center reopened and the future looking bright, Nelson has been able to look back with real fondness to the early start of her time at the Senior Center.

“Very welcoming,” she said. “The board, the volunteers, the staff and then of course our seniors are very welcoming. They are ready to move forward.”

“Everybody is very comfortable and relaxed,” she added. “It feels like a great big family.”