Over the Hill Gang celebrates 20 years
By Dana Delgado
Reminiscent of the closing scene of the holiday movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the entire town rallies around George Bailey as the savior of the community, the Over the Hill Gang jubilantly gathered last week to mark its 20th Anniversary.
The biggest difference is that unlike the movie’s fictional town – Bedford Falls – the OTHG rallies every week; the anniversary just happened to be a little more special because it is such a milestone since many questioned its transformational impact at its inception.
A record-breaking crowd attended the June 21 celebration, which hailed the organization’s success in supporting the area’s seniors and recognized its visionary and awe-inspiring founders.
After sounding a whistle, current OTHG President Dorothy Hill welcomed all those in attendance and thanked those for their time and efforts in helping stage the event including Claire Klein, Betty West, Jane and Angel Allman, and Dottie Ross, as well as members of the sheriff’s department, the constable’s office, and Grace Alive Church. Opening comments were followed by the recognition of the charter members, the presentation of a floral bouquet to Lorraine Williams who was honored for being one of the organization’s founders and a moment of remembrance of those members lost before saying grace and breaking bread.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Hill. “The 85 in attendance broke our previous record of 81, which was set at a recent Christmas celebration. It took a whole bunch of people to make it happen but it went so well. Everyone was there.”
The Liberty Hill Police Department and Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 were among the guests in attendance.
“I’m glad the center is here for Liberty Hill and its seniors,” said Mayor Rick Hall who attended the event. “It’s a nice, inviting place, which provides a good time and fellowship.”
In a conversation with Hill at the event, Hall gave her assurances that the brick building at 2207 RR 1869, which the city is expected to assume ownership from the county, would continue to serve as the home for the OTHG as long as he is mayor. The pledge by the mayor was announced by Hall to all those in attendance.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Hill said. “I felt like everything was going to be okay.”
Williamson County was also well represented with Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long leading the delegation, which also included Sheriff Robert Chody and members of the Constable’s office.
“The longevity of the Over the Hill Gang is a testimony to the individuals who have been involved and committed to ‘the gang’ through the years,” said Commissioner Long. “The group is about relationships and staying connected to one another in an increasingly disconnected world. They truly care about each other. They rejoice together and they weep together. They break bread together and fellowship together. The members of the Over the Hill Gang, past and present, are an example to us all of community. They are a family that I am honored to be part of.”
“The 20th celebration means that we’ve come a long way,” Hill said. “As president, this milestone gives me renewed hope. We are grateful to our founders, especially Suzy Bates and Loraine Williams because the OTHG has grown so much.”
Hill was excited to see that both founding members were able to attend the festivities.
“I wanted them to celebrate their dream,” she said. “Lorraine was a firecracker even back then. James Hanley had connections with Precinct 2, which helped get our foot in the door in getting the building. She (Loraine Williams) wanted something for the seniors because there was nothing in Liberty Hill. Men were just sitting around and watching TV. Women had nothing except go to church or visit some friends. She thought it was important to get them out. Suzy was in real estate, got our tax exemption and set up the bylaws and has been a contributor for years.”
“People said that seniors in Liberty Hill would never come out to the center at the beginning,” said Williams who moved to Liberty Hill in the 1960s when her husband retired from the military. “At first, we hoped they would come down and eat. We planned for snacks along with beans and cornbread. I’m so honored to have been a part of the OTHG; it’s always been about fellowship. Without Suzy (Bates), it would not have been possible. She played a big part in all this. She has the personality.”
Hill went on to say that the founders “started with nothing.”
“The old timers scrounged around and got an old frig, a stove and this and that and built up a piecemeal of furniture which we have gradually updated,” Hill added. “While we started with only serving beans, Jane Allman and I kept adding to the meal, a bit at a time. Beans remained a staple but we gradually added an entry, a salad, and a fruit salad and there has always been friend chicken. A good home-cooked meal is important to seniors who rarely cook for themselves. They all need it.”
Teresa Garner first started coming to the OTHG as a guest of her husband since she was not quite 50.
“It was social time; something to do,” she said. “It gave us a sense of belonging.”
Melba Loveless, who moved to the area in 1997 from Houston, found herself a bit isolated when the local VFW Auxiliary dissolved.
“I decided to go over to the OTHG to eat,” she said. “I found it very social and friendly. You just have to get up and start talking to people. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
“As the current president, I’m fortunate to help keep it growing,” Hill said. “It’s been awesome. While it’s been painful to lose some of our members, we are grateful to have had them for a while.”
Any area senior 50 years or older is invited to join them for fellowship and a meal every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. The first meal is free; afterwards, individuals are asked to donate $5 for their meal.
Seniors can also gather on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a variety of table games including canasta, dominos, and bridge. The non-profit organization has been able to serve its members, maintain the building, and grow as a result of public donations.