Business as usual

<span>The mood was festive on Monday at the Chester Senior Center.</span>

<span>More than three weeks after the facility closed due to lack of funds related to the state's budget impasse, the center reopened to a large lunch crowd.</span>

<span>Last Thursday, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 2042, which allowed for the "pass through" of more than $5 billion in federal funds to be distributed by state agencies. Previously, such funds could not be distributed without a state budget in place.</span>

<span>"I think it has given people a lot to think about," said Paulette Hamlin, executive director of Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council. "I hope more seniors will come out and utilize our services and show the definite need for our services and I hope we'll have a full house in the future."</span>

<span>The Steeleville-based WEEOC operates the Chester Senior Center and other senior sites in Waterloo, Columbia and Red Bud. The sites closed on July 31 and awaited the mess in Springfield to work itself out.</span>

<span>"We can definitely use volunteers any time and they can be any age," Hamlin said. "We continue to use local monetary support.</span>

<span>"If anybody still wants to give, contact (Chester Senior Center Director) Donna Wolters and we'll be happy to tell you everything you need."</span>

<span>Hamlin and Wolters both testified to a House committee in Springfield on Aug. 5 on the seniors' behalf. After House Democrats tried, and failed, to attach more state spending authority to SB 2042 - prompting a veto threat from Rauner - it was approved by the Senate on Aug. 19 on a vote of 42-0.</span>

<span>"I'm thrilled to death, I'm so thankful," Wolters told the Herald Tribune on the day the bill was signed. "I'm so glad people are going to be coming back."</span>

<span>On Monday, it was business as usual, with old friends catching up after three weeks apart.</span>

<span>"I think it's great," said Mary Webster, who has been coming to the Chester Senior Center for three years. "People are going to be really happy. They missed the companionship and to see (the senior center) back going again is nice."</span>

<span>Margaret Pierce, who will turn 91 years old on Sept. 5, has been coming to the senior center since 1993.</span>

<span>"The food is fine, but we come for the company," she said. "We can tell tales, celebrate birthdays."</span>

<span>Chester Mayor Tom Page also offered his opinion of the reopening.</span>

<span>"I could not imagine, for the life of me, why the state would get in the middle of a federal spending distribution," he said. "For our seniors, it is wonderful news."</span>

<span>Lauriel Wingerter, the new marketing director of the Chester Rehabilitation and Nursing Center (which is across the street from the Chester Senior Center), brought cake and ice cream for the patrons to mark the occasion.</span>

<span>"You get on a schedule and a routine and when it closed, it throws you off," said Marlene Eckert.</span>

<span id="docs-internal-guid-6125033b-62c5-5833-d248-25b98f055838"><span>Anyone wishing to donate or receive more information about volunteering can contact the Chester Senior Center at 618-826-5108.</span></span>