By Robert Lucke
It is 9 a.m. on a Friday at the Senior Center in downtown Havre. The kitchen staffers have just fixed breakfast for 19 prisoners and are starting chicken sticks for lunches at the Senior Center. They prepare for about 100 there and 50 to be delivered around town. The every-morning pool players have just started playing. Folks are coming in and out of the doors, walking decisively, knowing where they are going. A nurse checks the blood sugar of a man sitting at a table. There is a lot happening here early this morning. It is this way every morning at the center.
Then out from her office flies Evelyn Havskjold. She is the lady who runs all this action, and has run it since it began in Hill County, way back in 1973. She had just been making a Social Security call for a person. That is one of her roles an advocate for anyone who might need her. Still lots of people come in and out as we go into her cluttered office and talk about her job and the center.
She cuts to the chase quickly.
"I hate bosses," she said. "I hate boss' day. This is a team effort down here. My whole attitude is different. We make this run altogether."
The altogether is a staff of 43.
"When I first started here we had only one RN (registered nurse) and two aides. Now we have 31 personal care attendants and two RNs," Havskjold said.
It all started back in 1973 when Havskjold was working for the Hill County Extension Office. They asked her to attend a Governor's Conference on Aging in Helena.
"When I got back I applied to be the director of the Hill County Council of Aging and we started our center at the Methodist parsonage," Havskjold recalled. "I remember when we moved into this building. You know, it was an implement building and Mrs. Kiesling was with me when we looked at it. She said, I don't know about this!' I think we purchased it in 1976 but I am terrible with years. I never look back."
Havskjold never dreamed she would still be at it some 28 years later. Neither did husband Duane and children Carl, Chris, Cathy and Connie.
Havskjold was born and raised in Havre. Her father ran Havre Jobbing until the Buttrey Co. moved the family to Great Falls.
The Senior Center job is huge. Some 1,306 seniors are served with one or more service. Those services might include meals, meal delivery, transportation, personal care, in-home health, RSVP, distribution of commodities and even a Medicare program.
"We do lots of paper work for people," Havskjold said. "We help them pay their bills and work on their Medicare paperwork and we really work closely with the hospital and the Care Center. And it is all paper. Tons and tons of paper. In fact, I dream about paper at night."
It all happens here thanks to Hill County.
"The only way we can do all these services is that the county is so supportive," she said. "County government really supports elderly people. Not all counties do that."
"We find that we are even ordering meds for people over the Internet," Havskjold said. "With prescriptions, the costs are so high and these are relatively new areas for us, but just think. The average senior pays around $500 per month for meds and from $200 to $300 a month for supplemental insurance. That is $800 on someone living on Social Security. They are dipping into their savings every month if they have any savings."
A new world has been created by people living longer, Havskjold said.
"Sometimes I pray to God, asking him if everything is full up there. Is that why so many are left for so long down here?" she asked, laughing.
Best thing about the job for Havskjold?
"It is the seniors. And the people I work with. The challenges. No two days are ever the same. I have never been bored a day in my life. The other day someone was talking to us about surfer's rules, and the first rule is to have passion for what you are doing. I believe in our goal, which is to keep people independent and in their homes as long as possible."
There are those moments in the job when things don't go right. And there is all that paperwork.
"One time last week we had a situation when another agency really took advantage of us and I almost blew up but then a voice said to me, Don't get caught up in that, Evelyn, because the only one hurt will be a little old lady who did nothing to get hurt for," she said.
Havskjold's family sometimes refers to her as the marshmallow. And sometimes admonishes her that even marshmallows get hard.
She says no, she is just an old softy.