Mixed emotions. That’s how Webster Parish Council on Aging Director Dathene Brown describes her feelings about retiring at the end of the year.
After 47 years of serving the parish’s elderly, Brown is announcing her retirement, effective Dec. 31. She says she’s enjoyed serving the elderly and bringing in much-needed programs for seniors in Webster Parish.
“It’s been a joy through these years,” she said. “The most exciting thing about this job has been the new programs that we’ve been able to get for these seniors. Our goal is to keep them in their homes, out of the doctor’s offices and happy.”
Brown praised the board, past board members and the employees she’s worked with over the years, saying God has played a huge role.
“I could not have done this job with no more school education than I have,” she said. “My background was in office procedures and accounting. If the Lord hadn’t been with me, He’s the one that has done all of this. I have had good board members, I have had good chairmen, and I’ve had some of the best, some of the wisest.”
Board Chairman Jean Doerge says everyone, including state officials who have worked with her over the years, will miss Brown. When she leaves, much knowledge will go with her.
“The people that’s she’s worked with through the state have nothing but admiration for her,” Doerge said. “That means a lot when you’ve worked that long with people and have those good things said about you. That’s a compliment. The thing about Brown is that she’s constantly trying to improve, not only the facility but programs to help seniors here in Webster Parish.”
The Webster Parish Council on Aging began in 1969 under the Bureau of Aging Services, now the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs. She says they worked with the LSU Extension Office and home demonstration clubs to begin senior services.
“A survey was done to see the greatest need, and back then, most of them said it was loneliness,” she said.
Judy Carter, whose husband was a legislator at the time, helped her set up meetings in Minden and Springhill.
With some coaxing from a state legislator, Brown says she went to Baton Rouge to testify before a legislative committee to get funding for services.
“When we walked in, and I saw all these people in this committee room, then there were all these people standing around the wall in there,” she said. “I thought, ‘who in the world are they?’”
She soon learned they were lobbyists from the nursing homes there to halt any funding for the councils on aging in the rural areas.
“That just took my breath,” she said. “It scared me to death, but they said I did alright. I got up there and told the committee how hard it was on these older people.”
In the early 70s, they began receiving state funding, about $25,000 per program, which was homemaker services, such as light cleaning and cooking, and home-delivered meals. Medicaid then began picking up the tab for the home-delivered meals.
At the time, the Webster Parish Police Jury provided office space for COA, a one-room office with three desks and two telephones, she said. A few years later, it came to the attention of A.Q. Hackett, a school board member at the time, the organization needed more space, Brown says, adding that Hackett said “it’s a shame they don’t have any place for senior services.”
Ralph Rentz, another school board member, took up the reins and came up with the idea to renovate the building on McIntyre Street. After getting $15,000 from the City of Minden, the school board, the police jury, the COA and the community, the building was renovated, and COA moved into it in 1979. Interestingly, the outside of the building was bricked using old bricks from Main Street, called Back Street then.
“In no time, we had overrun that building,” she said.
Over the years, Brown says while they were grateful for the building, they dealt with several issues. Toward the end, health and safety issues arose due to the numerous times the building flooded.
The funding for the new building was slowed down due to some political adversity, Doerge says, but in 2010, the capital outlay from the state came through. When all was said and done, COA moved into its current location on Sheppard Street.
Today, Brown says they offer a number of programs, both state and federal, for seniors. When she hands over the reins, she says she will get more involved in her Sunday school class at First Baptist Church in Minden and help her son, Mickey Brown, with his business. She says she will also read more, spend more time with family and friends and stay active in her community.