Missoula Senior Center shuffles leadership; records first positive fiscal year in 7 years

New board President John Nugent, left, and John Walker examine the solar display wall that faces S. Higgins Avenue in the Missoula Senior Center. Walker, the center’s volunteer maintenance engineer, recently built the wall to help save heating costs and display bulletins and notices to outside traffic. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

As the Missoula Senior Center transitions to new leadership, the nonprofit has recorded its first in-the-black fiscal year in seven years.

John Nugent, elected president by the board of directors on Dec. 26, moved up the ladder quickly after former board president Mike Sweet tendered his resignation on Dec. 18.

Shunning rumors that the new leadership change was contentious or that the board forced out Sweet, Nugent said the only concern among board members was how to get the center out of the red after six straight years of lost revenue.

In fiscal year 2019, which runs from July to December, the center reported $34,000 in the black – a very positive balance heading into the new year.

“That Dec. 18 board meeting was a big discussion,” said Nugent. “For the first five months, we had a negative balance. That was the concern – that we had $34,000 net last year, but for the first five months, we were going back the other way.”

The roughest year in the previous six-year frame was fiscal year 2017, when the center was $76,398 in the red. From 2013 to 2018, the deficit moved up and down, according to the current financial report.

The Dec. 18 meeting was a turning point in another way.

“It was after that discussion that Mike Sweet said, ‘I think I’ll submit my resignation,’ ” said Nugent. It was a difficult discussion. It wasn’t contentious, but like a lot of nonprofits, we want to keep our doors open.”

After a bit of shuffling in which Kathi Campbell automatically became president, per the center’s bylaws, and Nugent moved to vice president from his secretary position, the board approved Nugent as president a week later, on Dec. 26.

Campbell had served as vice president under Sweet.

The board has eliminated three paid staff positions, which has helped greatly with boosting revenue, said Nugent.

“The board and volunteers stepped up and filled a lot of the roles that staff used to fulfill,” said Nugent, prior to when he became board secretary in June, 2019.

But recently, the board eliminated paid volunteer manager Jane Yungmeyer to save money. Previously, it eliminated the executive director position that Michelle Hastings held and an assistant director position – also to save money.

“Part of the reason why the board chose not to fund the volunteer coordinator position is that we had to figure out how to make up (the) deficit. Our budget is always struggling.”

Now, Nugent has taken on the executive director duties, as well.

Overall, the center has reduced the number of its paid staff members from seven to four. Still on staff are Kelly Bouma, center coordinator and newsletter editor; bookkeeper Jane Goffe; and kitchen managers Roberta Murdoch and Aaron Mosher.

Elected by the membership, the board now has Elizabeth Johnson as treasurer. Members will vote to fill the vacant vice president and secretary seats, but the next membership meeting isn’t scheduled until next September.

Board members at large are Michael East, Shirley Howell, Pat Janes, Nina Kalckar, Patricia Kouris and Lou Ann Sharkey.

Former Treasurer John Walker, now volunteer maintenance engineer and a four-year center member, gave Nugent kudos.

“With John we’re going to go with a lot more logical, down-to-earth leadership,” said Walker. “Mike did a lot of good things for us, but it was a lot of peripheral things – he never got to the core of the problem – and I think John is going to do that.”

Walker recently built a four-panel solar wall in a small room facing Higgins Avenue in order to become more energy efficient. The wall will serve as a public bulletin board and sport movie posters advertising The Roxy Theater across the street.

As for the 625-member center in which dues tally $25 a year per person, the over-60 crowd enjoys a ballroom, dining room, exercise rooms, Thursday night Bingo, a prospering Thrift Store downstairs, and an indoor winter market on Saturdays that runs from November to April.

Missoula Aging Services contracts with the center to provide nutritional meals for low-income seniors – plus walk-ins can pay $5-$7 for a meal.

By observation, the center seems to be flourishing in all corners. Walker, for one, seems realistic but committed.

“It all depends on who you talk too,” Walker said. “I always felt it was thriving because they never included the depreciation of the building and the equipment – and now we’re including that now and we’re crying poor a little bit. But we’re not poor and we’re not wonderful, but we’re doing okay.”

Contract Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.