Heather Kaiser steps into mother’s role with Nederland senior center

Published 12:20 am Friday, January 5, 2024

NEDERLAND — Soon after Heather Kaiser took the reins at B. A. Ritter Senior Citizens Center in Nederland, she was told she had big shoes to fill.

“I said I would never in a million years try to fill my mama’s shoes,” Kaiser said, referring to her late mother and past director of the center Diane LaPoint. “My mom gave me my own pair of shoes. I have ideas. I have visions for the center.”

Kaiser is younger than her mother and is bringing that to the job; she feels the seniors appreciate it. She has initiated a few new activities in addition to the old ones.

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The seniors are family for Kaiser, just as they were for her mother, who was executive director for almost 12 years.

Doris Parsons, vice president of the Center’s board of directors, said Kaiser is doing a fantastic job and has many good ideas.

“She knows all of us. She was trained by her mother, so she couldn’t help but be good,” Parsons said. “Everybody loves her. She’s just so helpful.”

Parsons used to cook for her church on Wednesdays and her and her husband Henry would play Bridge on game nights there, then a member died and they didn’t have enough people for the game. That’s the reason the couple first went to the Center. Others came and went, but the Parsons stayed.

Marie Hester, who was at the table this week with the Parsons enjoying a game of Mexican Train Dominoes, said the Center is a place to go, meet people and have a good time.

“We laugh, we cry together. It’s amazing,” Hester said.

Hester moved to the area in 2018 after losing her husband. She didn’t know anyone except her daughter, and the Center gave her a chance to branch out.

“I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for Diane, she took me under her wing,” Hester said.

Board member Ralph Watterson spends a lot of time at the Center and laughingly considers himself the social director. He does a little of this and that and spends time in the quilt room assisting quilters and helping create knitted caps on his Addi knitting machine. A cancer survivor, Watterson contributes his time and skills for his years in remission.

Watterson is also known to visit a local thrift shop and purchase hospital chairs and other items seniors might need and pass them on.

Heather Kaiser

When visitors enter the foyer at the senior center they instantly see a large photo of the past director, Diane LaPoint.

LaPoint, who died in June, put her heart and soul into the center and her spirit still lives on with each story told by the seniors she cared for.

Kaiser began shadowing her mother eight years ago, taking on small projects, decorating for the holidays and cleaning up, but was unknowingly being trained by LaPoint for something larger.

Through the years Kaiser gained the trust of the seniors and a relationship was built. She learned each individual there was going through different things in their lives and to take that into consideration for every decision made.

“All I want to do is make my mother proud because I didn’t know I’d end up here in this capacity. I had no clue,” Kaiser said. “I didn’t plan on this. I didn’t know what I had planned, having lost my husband seven years ago.”

Kaiser’s husband James was killed in a three-vehicle crash in 2016.

Kaiser’s relationship with the seniors has grown. They are the first ones to know if she’s having a tough day, though she tries to hide it and stay positive. All around her are memories of her mother, who lived with her. The desk across from Kaiser was her mother’s. There are photos on the wall of her mother, even LaPoint’s business card remains on her old desk.

LaPoint was a Christmas baby, and this past Christmas was rough on the family.

Her favorite part of the Center and something she is just realizing over the past three weeks is the seniors and others who knew LaPoint and loved her, carry a part of her with them.

“Every single one of these people has known her a different length of time. They have a different story to tell me. They have a memory of why she helped them. It’s like she’s not gone, and that helps, especially being here because this was her place,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser is introducing chair exercises to the seniors and plans to get card games going. There are still domino games, quilting, the pool table and rocking chairs in different rooms.

The Center is part of Meals on Wheels and works with Beaumont Nutrition. Seniors are able to get a hot meal and socialize while at the Center.

The B.A. Ritter Senior Citizens Center is located at 914 Boston Avenue and can be reached by calling 409-727-5230.