‘The love for our seniors is very evident!’ 

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Members of the Colony Senior Center sit front and center, hoping to hear their names called for prizes at the Cullman Area Senior and Retiree Christmas Party on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

Cullman Area Senior and Retiree Christmas Party breaks attendance record 

ULLMAN, Ala. – Stone Bridge Farms was buzzing on Friday morning as its Browne Stone Centre was strung with golden lights and festive runners and centerpieces lined the tables. Soft Christmas music could barely be heard over the conversations held by 835 Cullman area seniors and retirees as they mingled and chatted before a warm and festive meal hosted by the Cullman County Commission on Aging (COA) and the Donald E. Green Active Adult Center, with the help of dozens of volunteers made up of senior care employees, local dignitaries and athletes. 

COA Executive Director Stephanie Lawson said the RSVP-only Cullman Area Senior and Retiree Christmas Party was a record-breaking way to end the year; seniors and retirees in the community responded with great enthusiasm, leading the COA to make the call to cap reservations a few weeks beforehand. 

“This was a record year for us with over 800 registered to attend! Regrettably, we had to stop taking reservations the week of Thanksgiving, as there were concerns about seating capacity and fire code,” she explained, gesturing to the packed-out ballroom before her. 

The morning of festive fun was opened with prayer by Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, with Cullman County District Attorney Champ Crocker taking charge from there to act as the morning’s emcee, announcing raffle winners and keeping the flow of the event moving. 

Gentry expressed gratitude for always being invited to the myriad senior-centered events in the community, saying the senior and retiree population of Cullman is the heartbeat of the county. “They are the foundation that built this county and without them, Cullman County would not be the special and unique place that it is,” he said. 

Cullman County Commission Chairman Jeff Clemons echoed Gentry’s sentiments. “The commission is so blessed to be able to serve our senior community. We really enjoy it,” he said, pointing out fellow commissioners Kelly Duke and Corey Freeman as they dished out hot plates of Christmas lunch with all the fixings.  

Along with Duke and Freeman, the COA estimated that nearly 100 volunteers, made up of local and state elected officials, senior center staff and senior care employees were needed along with Stone Bridge’s talented crew to get lunch on the table for every senior in the house.  

The seniors and retirees made sure to make good use of the celebrity waiters like Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview, asking for refills and switching out flavors of pie – the volunteers smiled and did what they needed to do to make each guest feel celebrated. 

Cullman County Commissioner Kelly Duke directs “celebrity waiter” Cullman County Administrator John Bullard at the Cullman Area Senior and Retiree Christmas Party on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. (Cayla Grace Murphy) 

Freeman shared, between running trays of plates and coordinating who got what next, the commission’s deep appreciation for Lawson and her team. He expressed that events are more than photo-ops; they’re an opportunity to chat with valuable members of the community who may not always feel heard. 

“I would like to thank Stephanie Lawson and her staff and team for all their hard work and dedication they put forth for our seniors and the programs they have established at the Commission on Aging,” he said. “I would say that what we have here in our small county has grown to be the largest community gathering in the state for our seniors, and that’s huge!” 

After lunch, the atmosphere took on a competitive edge as names were drawn once again – but  this time, for cash prizes and gift cards. Seniors and retirees waited with bated breath to hear their names called as the lucky winner of the final prize, $500 from Trae Norrell and Lawson Schaffer of Byars Wright. You could hear a pin drop as Crocker unfolded the slip of paper with Ellen Hart’s name on it, with the dining room erupting into applause as she walked up to retrieve her Christmas winnings. 

Lawson said that while she often gets the credit for the success of these events, they wouldn’t happen without a strong team of volunteers, and support from elected officials. 

“We cannot do what we do, especially an event this size, without all the elected officials, volunteers and the COA and Active Adult Center staff,” she said. “Everyone was happy to see the baseball team from West Point High School back with us again this year, too! We truly appreciate everyone who came out to help serve but also everyone who helped provide door prizes and monetary support. The love for our seniors is very evident!  

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