Ketchikan students throw prom for senior citizens

KETCHIKAN (AP) — Her cobalt sequins sparking in the dance floor lights, prom queen Eldora Peterson wheeled her way to be crowned alongside king Larry Thomas at Sunday's Senior Spring Fling at the Sunny Point Conference room.


Dance tunes spanning the 1940s to the 1980s, spun by Ketchikan High School senior Ethan Bowlen and his father Scott Bowlen, had attendees clapping, stomping, singing and reeling, on feet and on wheels.

Kayhi prom queen Inga Christensen and king Mark Dulay chose and crowned Peterson and Thomas.

Christensen said Peterson seemed the perfect queen, who at 99 years old "looked beautiful and was friendly and fun to dance with."

Dulay and Christensen said Thomas was the best choice because he was "always smiling, and such a sweet guy."

Peterson, smiling brightly under her sparkling tiara, said, "It's just been fun."

She said that she graduated in 1931, in Anacortes, Wash., where she had met her future husband at a school dance. When asked how Sunday's Spring Fling compared to her 1931 prom, she chuckled and said, "I don't dare say."

She said she has lived in Ketchikan for many years, and especially enjoyed the years she lived on Pennock Island.

Thomas communicated with the help of attendees Megan Cessnun and Bett Jakubek because he has a stoma from a tracheostomy. He wore a dark, crisp Salvation Army uniform, his hat propped on his wheelchair arm behind him, the tall, gaudy prom king crown taking its place.

Cessnun and Jakubek said Thomas has been dedicated to The Salvation Army for many years, working especially hard in the soup kitchen. He nodded to say that he had grown up in Ketchikan, and still has family here.

The Kayhi senior prom theme, "Carnival Nights," gave the room a colorful, exotic air, featuring a broad photo backdrop illustration of an Indian Elephant draped with jewel-toned fabrics.

People came from many places, including the Pioneers' Home, Peace Health Primary Care Clinic's long-term care and Rendezvous Senior Day Services. Other attendees included Community Connections staff, dance aficionados, friends, family and about 34 Kayhi seniors.

The students, who lit up the room with their sparkling prom gowns and sleek tuxedoes, served cake and beverages to the elders, and accompanied them on the dance floor. Songs such as "The Chicken Dance," ''YMCA" and "Twist and Shout" got people hopping in between slower jazz and swing tunes that inspired some smooth ballroom moves.

Mary Elizabeth Fitzgibbon said that at her prom, "We really danced," explaining that the youth then knew how to ballroom dance. She said she attended her prom at the Wrangell Institute, where she had been a cheerleader.

"Give 'em the axe, axe, axe!" she called out, grinning. "WHERE?! In the neck! neck! neck!"

She laughed and said that had been a favorite cheer at the games.

Evelyn Wilson, from Rendezvous, who was born and raised in Ketchikan, said she came to the Spring Fling because, "I love watching the older people," and that she thought it would be a fun event.

She said she had been enjoying the old music. She said she had missed her own prom, but has had many other great memories with family over the years.

Long-term care resident Norma Copeland — a 1962 Kayhi graduate — said that at her prom they did jitterbugs and other classic dances, "The whole ball of wax."

Copeland, who said she is half Tlingit, said what she remembers clearly from her days at Kayhi was a strong prejudice against Natives.

"I love everybody," she said, shaking her head, adding that she never could understand that.

Two of the four Kayhi senior advisers, Rebecca Bowlen and Susan Stone, said the students immediately warmed to the idea of hosting the Spring Fling.

"This particular group tends to be altruistic in nature," Bowlen said. She said they were intrigued by offering a prom for seniors, on a smaller scale than the one held for Kayhi students the night before.

The Senior Spring Fling was an idea Jakubek, an intern with Community Connections, came up with years ago when she was the activities director for the Pioneers' Home. She said that when she her oldest children attended the prom at the high school, she was struck by how much money and time had been invested in the event, just to be taken down after a few hours' use.

Copeland, resting in her wheelchair and sipping a cool green tea drink, said she really appreciated the efforts made to host the Spring Fling.

"I love dancing," she said. "I love to come here — it's awesome."


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