Seniors’ discussion forum a place for cordial debate on current issues

I wrote this article as part of a group project for my JRN 400 class. We did a series on East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center’s Prime Time Senior Program. It was published on May 2, 2012 on our class website.

Seniors’ discussion forum a place for cordial debate on current issues

By Nicole LaChance

In a small room on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, a group of senior citizens, after getting in their “hellos” and chit chat, settle around a table.

Behind them sits a board detailing the day’s topics of discussion: ex-presidents, a recent string of tornados, stand your ground laws. If it’s in the news, it’s fair game

The current events discussion is part of East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center’s Prime Time Senior Program. The forum provides an opportunity for those 55 and over, both members and non-members of the program, to come together and discuss current issues important to them.

“Seniors can be a little isolated since they are not working and don’t hear the water cooler talk,” said Marilyn Spalding, who is a discussion leader and helped start the group 20 years ago. “This group gives us a chance to discuss and argue about current events and be less isolated.”

The session starts out lightly with a few members sharing jokes and giving updates on things such as surgeries and visits out of town.  The attention then turns to the board where, before the meeting, participants wrote down topics they wished to discuss.

“It’s nice to hear other information because I don’t read all the papers,” said Lou Anselmo, who has been attending the group for 15 years. She also enjoys the fact that many members of the group are former teachers, professors and university faculty who are very informed about politics and current events.

Anyone who wishes to may share an opinion or additional facts on the topic may do so, but must raise their hand and wait for their turn. Overall, discussions remain cordial and opposite opinions are respected. That doesn’t mean there isn’t disagreement.

The issue of veterans’ medical benefits makes the discussion particularly heated. One woman starts out the discussion that veterans should get benefits to treat any illness that may be related to combat, even psychological conditions.  The next participant disagrees, believing benefits should only be given for illnesses proven to directly relate to combat so as not to take unnecessary funds from the government. He cited the point of Agent Orange, the chemical used heavily during the Vietnam War, and how it may cause cancer, but there is no way of proving it is the direct cause of a veteran’s illness.

The subject is a popular one, as many in the room are either veterans or wives of veterans. Almost everyone shares an opinion and the subject takes up nearly a half hour of the time. However, even with a subject as volatile as government funding, an air of civility remains in the room. Those who can’t leave their disgust at the door usually don’t come back, said group member Howard Davis.

Davis noted that the group gives them a chance to discuss issues that may be ignored by the younger generation, such as the possible elimination of land line phones.

“We’re a bunch of old fogies,” said Davis. “We don’t have computers and don’t get a lot of different news.”

The current events discussion group meets every Wednesday at 1 in room 140 of the Hannah Community Center. The cost is $1 for members and $2 for non-members. For more information call 517-337-1113 or visit



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