“Dinner is served!”

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Gilpin County seniors appreciate holiday feast served by Ameristar Casino

by Patty Unruh

About 75 participants in Gilpin County’s senior program were treated to a special holiday feast by the Ameristar Casino on Wednesday, December 5. The free event was served at the Gilpin County Community Center (GCCC) at noon.

Mary Ellen Makosky, director of the senior program, welcomed all the attendees and encouraged them to give the Ameristar staff “a real Gilpin welcome.” Accordingly, a huge round of applause went up for the casino’s employees.

“This is our ninth or tenth year to do this,” Makosky estimated, “and I think it’s our biggest so far.”

Although the meal was free, the guests did have to make reservations so the Ameristar chefs would know how much food to prepare. Forty pounds of ham and turkey, 16 pumpkin and apple pies, gallons of gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, salad, vegetables, and dozens of dinner rolls were on the menu, according to Executive Steward Marcus Aguilar. Executive Chef Steven Jamison and his team had been at it since about 5:00 that morning getting the food ready.

Twenty-two casino employees, all of whom had donated their time, served and visited with the senior guests of honor. The repast was donated by the Ameristar and was part of their “Ameristar Cares” program, in which the casino supports its local community. Citlalli Corona, Internal Communication Specialist for Ameristar, advised that the casino also reached out to the Gilpin community by providing burritos at the Gilpin County Fair last summer. Ameristar does five “off-property” events annually.

Ameristar’s Veronica Oakeley, coordinator of this year’s happening, greeted the seniors. “This is our favorite event of all. We love serving and talking with you.”

Christmas music set a merry mood as the seniors caught up with their friends, took photos, and enjoyed the holiday dishes. The attendees came decked out in Christmas sweaters and vests, jolly jewelry, lighted headbands, and broad smiles. Small trees, sleds, and Santas served as festive table decorations. A tall Christmas tree twinkled in the dining area.

The most special decoration was a gingerbread house made of brown, red, and white balloons by GCCC employee Tonya McNeill. McNeill is an aquacize instructor and a lifeguard at GCCC and a ballooner on the side. She held a balloon jam at the Center with four other balloonists to construct the gingerbread house and several other ornaments, taking five hours to do so. McNeill and her balloon creations appeared at GCCC’s Winter Arts Festival on Saturday, December 8.

The seniors remarked about the excellent quality of the food and conversed about holiday plans, favorite foods, and Christmas memories. Lewis and Dianna Wagner planned to spend time with family and were looking forward to traditional German baked goods such as peppernut cookies and zwieback dinner rolls.

Norma Ball and Basil Leppek shared the glad tidings of their upcoming marriage, “in just 31 days,” Norma said. She and Basil had met through the senior program and were seated with their friend and “matchmaker” Donna Parman, who introduced them. Both had previously been married for more than 50 years, but their spouses had passed away. They were looking forward to a new life together.

Many of the seniors are active in community groups and volunteering. Joy Perona planned to collect laundry baskets full of food for Gilpin County Human Services to give to the needy. Others – at 90-plus years of age – continue to sing in the Peak to Peak Chorale.

The oldest member of the senior program is Don Bennallack, age 94. He recalled a magical time when, as a young lad, he still believed in Santa Claus.

“My folks didn’t do any decorating until I was in bed,” he said. “My favorite present was a red wagon I got when I was ten years old. I still have it.”

Candace Voisard, a 15-year employee of Ameristar, shared what she loved about serving at this occasion.

“This is my favorite group to serve. People tease me that I’m like a magnet to the seniors. They really are special to me.”

Gilpin County personnel were also helping out that day, including Randy Waller, Mitch Stepanek, and Katy Emmert. Emmert is employed with the senior program and was helping to bring plates of food to those unable to stand in line.

“It’s special to be a part of the senior program. I love them, and they love me. They are the ones who have built our country, and it’s rewarding to give back to them,” Emmert said.

Prior to gathering for the food and fellowship, several seniors were engaged in activities in the Community Center. Several folks were enjoying a hot game of Mexican Train dominoes and others were staying fit with the free exercise class offered to seniors.

The Gilpin Senior Program meets for lunch at the GCCC every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon and provides a wide array of other activities. The next special occurrence is the New Year’s Eve party on December 31 at noon. For more information, contact Mary Ellen Makosky at 303-582-5444 or

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