By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The North Central Senior Citizens Center has longtime volunteer and board member MaryEtta Sohm to thank for a snowmelt system installed in front of the building in October. Sohm made a $20,000 donation for the $26,000 project.
The remaining costs will come from memorial funds donated to the center, executive director Evelyn Havskjold said. The labor was provided free of charge.
The final touches are being put on a room for the boiler, so the snowmelt system should be operational by next week, she said.
The system will prevent snow and ice from gathering in front of the entrance. The sidewalks are angled so that when snow is melted, the water will run off.
"There's a lot of hidden benefits," Sohm said. The melting and freezing of snow at the north entrance had caused cracks in the sidewalks, which in turn were a threat to the center's elderly visitors.
Many members stay at the center after hours to play cards - one of Sohm's pastimes - when there is no longer anyone around to shovel the sidewalk, Havskjold said.
Sohm attended a board meeting a few months ago when the project was suggested. The question of how to pay for the project was asked and she made her offer.
"She shocked us all," Havskjold said. There was a moment of surprised silence after Sohm spoke, she said.
Sohm said that if the snowmelt system prevents just one injury, the donation will have been worth it. She said she had been looking for a worthy project at the center that she could support.
In the winter months, Sohm now travels to Arizona, but she said she is happy to help those that who in town during the cold season.
Sohm's husband, Gene, was also active at the senior center until his death several years ago, and she said he would have been happy to know that money he left her went to the center.
"I have a memorial, but I'm not ready to be memorialized," she said.
Sohm and her husband donated a food service island to the center years ago. She has also volunteered at the gift shop at Northern Montana Hospital for a number of years. Sohm said she enjoys playing pinochle at the center with friends.
For the past 11 years she has volunteered her mornings at Havre City Court doing clerical work - filing records, sending out notices and accounting for payments to the city.
A few years ago, Sohm's careful bookkeeping exposed a discrepancy that led to the discovery that someone in the office had stolen some ticket payments.
Havskjold said the incident is a credit to Sohm and the skill level of volunteers from the senior center.
Sohm's name will appear on a plaque near the entrance to the center, along with those of other individuals who donated their time and some supplies.
Bob Nault and Bill Jellison did the plumbing work. Clausen and Sons Construction and Havre Ready-Mix Construction Co. will be mentioned on the plaque for donating construction labor - removing the old sidewalk and then laying down new concrete - and Duane Havskjold and John Hecker helped build a wall to contain the boiler and controls.