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West Valley City Journal

Physical fitness has no age limit for Joyce Bangerter

Aug 29, 2019 12:48PM ● By Darrell Kirby

Glen Whitmore, 88, dances with a fellow senior citizen during a fitness class at the Harman Senior Recreation Center in West Valley City. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

By Darrell Kirby | d.k[email protected]

"One, two, three, four, five…" went the count as a dozen people bent down—some with more flexibility than others—grabbed and held their ankles until returning upright with audible sighs of relief upon hearing "…and 10!" 

Leading the group of senior citizens in this and other exercises at the Harman Senior Recreation Center in West Valley City on a warm Tuesday morning was not a young trainer in yoga pants, but one of their own. 

Joyce Bangerter is 84 years old. She has volunteered Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the senior center since November 2013 to help her fellow seniors improve and maintain their physical conditioning during a period of life when Father Time can be quicker and more agile than they are. 

For Bangerter, it is a labor of love. She wants to see her peers in their golden years live those years as best as possible. And the way to do that, she said, is by exercising body and mind. 

"Exercising helps with a lot of body functions," Bangerter said. "I admire these people because they're just trying to live a healthier life." She includes herself in that statement, noting that staying fit helps her with daily tasks. "It helps me be able to function. I still take care of my yard, but I don't mow the lawn anymore, thank heavens." 

Bangerter, who has lived in the same central West Valley home since 1964, lost her husband several years ago. Conducting the hour-long fitness sessions is mentally as much as it is physically therapeutic. "I enjoy it. I miss it if I am not here." 

Her enthusiasm is contagious. "Put her down as our fearless leader," Marlene Camden, 77, told a reporter observing the class. "It's fun. We love Joyce and we love the camaraderie we find here." 

"Pull your tummy tight," Bangerter instructed as the group placed their hands on the backs of their chairs and bent forward for the count of 10 as a Beatles tune played in the background. 

"Now we'll do our Hula Hoop," she directed and everyone began swiveling their hips one direction, then the other. 

Next, the gathering raised and lowered their necks, then turned them side to side. “This is so you can look over your shoulder and see a car coming,” quipped Bonnie Wimber, 80.

"We try to touch every part of the body," Bangerter said of the exercise routine. 

Her students can attest to that. “It helps limber you up really good. We can really use it, especially when we’re getting older,” said 67-year-old Adele Crockett. “Joyce encourages us to keep going.” Crockett added that the fun people in the class encourage her to get out and exercise, “otherwise, I would just sit home and quilt."

Glen Whitmore, 88, a participant for five years, was the only man in the session this day. The group usually includes three men among the 14 or 15 people who normally attend. “The fact that you exercise, it’s necessary,” he said. “It keeps you occupied. I’m a widower," noting his wife died six years ago. 

Zenda Rogers, director of the Harman Senior Recreation Center, is amazed at what Bangerter has fostered by leading the fitness classes. “Most of them (participants) are alone, but yet they’ve got this sisterhood and brotherhood that’s there. Twice a week, they get to know each other" so much so that they exchange gifts during the holidays. “It keeps growing and growing. I don’t know where we’re going to put everybody.” 

That's a problem Bangerter welcomes. She said she would gladly teach the classes five days a week, but recognizes that the senior center must accommodate other activities during the week. 

Rogers has been so impressed by Bangerter that she nominated her as Outstanding Volunteer for 2018 and the Utah Recreation and Parks Association selected the 84-year-old for that award. Bangerter was honored at the association's annual conference in March in St. George. 

Bangerter ends the session with a breathing exercise and a thank you. People mingle a bit and then each person eventually departs. She eagerly awaits Thursday's class and many more after that. 

"I’ll keep doing it as long as I can,” she said. “I’ve been thinking since I was 65, how much longer can I do things, and I’m still doing them. I’m thankful. It’s a blessing.”