Bradenton center tries out 'speed dating' for seniors

vmannix@bradenton.comAugust 1, 2012 

BRADENTON -- "OK, time to move on. Next table, please."

Sighs and groans greeted Wendy Houston's command as she rang a triangle in the small meeting room at Renaissance on 9th recently.

The reaction pleased the general manager of the senior enrichment center at 1816 Ninth St. W.

The inaugural "Speed Dating for Seniors" was working.

Sixteen singles at eight tables conversed for eight minutes, then the men changed seats at Houston's signal and started over.

"They didn't want to get up," she said. "Some made a real connection."

Evidently.

"I gave out my phone number a few times," said widower Bill Gillespie, 76.

So did Rita Fligiel, who got some numbers, too.

"We'll see what happens," said the 71-year-old widow.

Renaissance officials got the idea from a senior center in Fort Lauderdale and said they've already got a waiting list to make it a regular happening.

"It's a unique way to meet others in a safe environment, maybe make new friends," said development director Kristen Theisen.

None of this online business, either.

"It's old school, face-to-face," she said.

Renaissance made paper and pens available, but exchanging numbers was voluntary.

"There's no commitment here, but it gets them out socializing," Houston said. "A lot of seniors are single and looking for some companionship, but the dating scene can be intimidating."

Diane McGee, a 53-year-old divorcee, was visibly enthused by the give-and-take.

"It's like riding a bike," she said. "You never forget how."

Arthur Engelhard found it relatively easy going.

"With some you just immediately hit if off and conversation started to flow," said the 84-year-old divorcee. "You talk to eight people you don't expect all to fit

like that, but a couple were very interesting."

Donald Martin appreciated the casual setting.

"I like to meet people, enjoy picking up a conversation and learning about others," said the 77-year-old widower. "Phone numbers? I didn't ask for any, but it was nice talking and visiting. I'd do it again."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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