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appreciating seniorsThe band filled the dance floor at the Methow Valley Community Center with almost every number they played. As one senior observed, “This is the only kind of music we had here when we were growing up."

photoDecked out in their finest for the occasion Sarah Eisenhauer, on the left, Jimmy Gariano, the man behind Senior Appreciation Day, and Zitella Gates, right, ran the raffle at this year’s event.

A dollop of Valentine bling for the ladies and boots and hats for the gents were the order of the day Tuesday (Feb. 12) at the annual Senior Appreciation Day put on by Hank’s Harvest Foods. The annual affair features a free dinner open to all seniors, live country dance music and dozens of raffle prizes donated by local merchants.

Supermarket manager Jimmy Gariano is the man behind Senior Appreciation Day, which he started about 20 years ago with the blessing of his boss, Hank Konrad, who donates all the food and a whole lot of staff time. The idea, Gariano says, was to put on a free meal to thank the store’s senior customers. “It’s just our appreciation for our people in the valley,” he says. “If we didn’t have the locals, we wouldn’t be here.”

In the early days about 20 seniors came, Gariano says. By last year, and again this year, attendance was pushing toward 200 with diners coming from Omak, Okanogan and Brewster. “The word is out, but that’s okay,” says Gariano, who never imagined his party would become such a big deal. He thought maybe it would last for just a few years. Instead, it grew.

“They love it. They look forward to it every year,” says Rosalie Hutson, social director at the Methow Valley Senior Center, about those who attend the Valentine’s week event.

“My wife told me the only way I’d get out of it [now] is if I die because all these old people watched me grow up,” jokes Gariano, who was Carlton born and raised. He attended elementary school and two years of high school in Twisp before the Twisp and Winthrop schools, historic rivals, were consolidated.

photoBuzz Brose, left, and Terry Lee Hardesty and their band played music the crowd knew and offered a discount to anyone who bought their new CD.

“I’ve been in the grocery business since I was 13,” Gariano says. He cleaned the meat shop at night at the grocery store Konrad eventually bought, which sat where the Confluence Gallery is now, then went to work for Hank’s. Thirty-eight years later he says the boss “is like a second dad to me.”

Both Gariano and Konrad shun publicity. “You don’t have to toot your whistle,” Gariano says. ”You don’t need a slap on your back. What you do have to do is look at yourself in the mirror every morning.”

The self-effacing Gariano praises those who help him. “Hank is a big-hearted man,” he says. “He puts a lot back into the community.” All the food and staff time that goes into planning and putting on Senior Appreciation Day are an example. “It’s an all-store deal,” says Gariano.

It also takes a slew of volunteers. Gariano says Roy Reiber brings members of the Winthrop Kiwanis to help serve food. “Ranger Rick” Lewis, manager of Pearrygin Lake State Park, pitches in and brings volunteers. So do a couple of Gariano’s school classmates. Bonnie Smith helps him hit up businesses for raffle donations.

“I start on this little project as soon as I’m done hunting in November to pull it off in February,” says Gariano. “Hank just turns me loose on it.”

Terry Lee Hardesty and Buzz Brose, who each have their own bands, put together a combined band each year, Gariano says. Plus they often add musicians who aren’t regularly in their bands. “I never know what they’re going to bring,” Gariano says. “There might be 20 pieces of equipment up there… They play all the old music that they [the seniors] are used to hearing.”

It is the dance music that draws the seniors from outside the valley, according to Hutson. “They love to dance,” she says. “They’re the same ones who always come up [to the senior center] on our dance days.”

As for Gariano’s willingness to continue putting on Senior Appreciation Day, he just smiles: “To see all those old people up there cutting the rug, it makes it all worthwhile.”

seniors eatingDiners enjoyed a complimentary dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables and a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert.


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