HANNIBAL — For 45 years, senior adults from near and far have danced to live music at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center, and dozens of friends celebrated the occasion with a carry-in meal and cake on Wednesday.
Betty Parsons Miller, who played drums since the first dances when the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center was still an active armory, held up a picture of the band members who started the weekly tradition. She said the band was first known as the Forget Me Nots — named after the Forget Me Not Senior Citizen Center in New London — and original band member Ed Dye organized the senior adult dances that continue today in Hannibal.
Miller is the only surviving member of the original band, which included Dye, Dick Swain and Paul Quilling. The current lineup of Uptown Strings consists of Miller on drums, along with Harlon Lain and Wendell Glance, lead guitar, Greg Cornelius, bass, and her husband, Martin, vocals and rhythm guitar.
A table filled with photos, news articles and sign-in books from the 1980s brought back memories of the performers and dancers who were a part of the weekly event over the years.
“A lot of these people in these different pictures played down here,” Miller said. “We've had sax players, we've had trombone players, we've had trumpet players. We played a variety of music.”
Many visitors have been coming to the dances for decades — Mary Louise Nichols has been a regular attendee for 43 years. She met Norris Otten ten years ago, and they have been together ever since.
“She's younger than I am,” Otten said. “She's only 95. I'm going to be 100 in December.”
Otten said Nichols is “quite the square dancer,” and they attend several dances each week in the area.
“She's the dancer,” Otten said. “I just get out and hold her.”
Alan Epperson comes to the Hannibal dances periodically, and he enjoys the local tradition.
“The Uptown Strings have been going for years and years,” Epperson said. “It's a good thing really for older folks.”
Miller flipped through the pages of the sign-in books, remembering the dances that drew an average of 100 participants each week — sometimes there were roughly 150 people during the 1980s. Today, an average of 30 participants come to the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center each week. Miller commended the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department for their constant support and providing a venue with a wide open space for dancing.
Nichols and Otten will be back on the dance floor next week, and Otten had some advice for anyone thinking of joining in the festivities.
“Just get out there and dance,” Otten said. “That's what we do.”