Senior Christmas party remembers the 'forgottens'

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR
Two seniors dance at the annual Christmas party at Palazzo Bernardo's last week.

In December, the hottest party that goes down in Donaldsonville is the Annual Senior Christmas Party. Buses, vans and cars filled with citizens over the age of 60 gather in one location for dinner, music and Santa Claus. Not to mention, the opportunity of bringing in the season's spirit with familiar faces from the community. The party was held at Palazzo Bernardo's this year and over 350 guests filled the room.

For years, this event has been the talk of the parish since its beginning in 1984. Harold Capello started it and he said wanted to do it so the older people in the community would have something to look forward to.

"Most talk is what are you going to do for the kids," Capello said, who was the former Donaldsonville Mayor in 1997-2001. "The kids were getting a lot, but what I found weren't getting much were the senior citizens."

At that time, Capello said the only thing the seniors were really getting is the regular Council of Aging dinners. So, he gathered his wife and children and decided they'd throw a party, a Christmas party for the "forgottens."

"It's a great thing for the forgotten people really," Capello said. "Most of the people you see there, this might be their Christmas. A lot of them don't have Christmas like we do, don't have anybody. All the kids may be gone and spouse deceased."

Capello said he started buying turkeys and would get friends to bake them and bring to the community center, which is now known as the Lemann Center. He said they prepared the dinner the day before the party and from there it went.

For entertainment, Capello said he used to get choirs from churches and kids from head start to put on skits for entertainment. They didn't get a live band.

Capello said he didn't do plan this party for personal fame or glory; he did it for himself.

"It gave me and my family a chance to participate in something good," Capello said. "It's the way I grew up."

"There had to be something for them to have and that's what it was all about. It made me feel better doing it."

Not only did it make Capello feel better, he said it also gave his kids an opportunity to learn that it's better to give than receive.

"It made us feel we gave something back."

After about 25 years, Capello said he felt like he got too old to continue doing it and asked the Rotary Club to begin sponsoring it. In 2000, they did and Capello said the man who never gets the credit he should for is Cliff Ourso. But for Ourso, it isn't about him it's about the seniors.

"Most rewarding is seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the elderly that once was but rarely appears anymore," Ourso said, who is the owner of Ourso State Farm Insurance.

Ourso's parents built and owned the local nursing home in Donaldsonville back in 1964, and as a child he was always involved with it. He said he did everything from cleaning to assisting nurses and kitchen and janitorial work.

"I developed a special place in my heart for the elderly," Ourso said."There is a lot to be learned from them. Often they are forgotten, but shouldn't be."