Cutting-edge research on aging. A stronger revenue stream to support more programs. And a continued emphasis on vibrant living in life’s later years.
Dan Mustard, the new executive director of Mill Race Center, sees all that and more on the horizon for the nonprofit activity hub for the area’s 50-plus population. That demographic represents the largest age group — 34 percent — in Bartholomew County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Probably the biggest area that’s been changing for us is the picture with donors,” Mustard said. “The days are gone for many of the large, readily available corporate sponsorships. So we still need to do whatever we can do to find ways to be less dependent on donor dollars.”
One big focus will be seeking ways to boost the center’s income by developing new fee-based services, although he’s uncertain yet what those might be.
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A February merger with Senior Products, which includes an industrial rag-making operation, was one financial boost. Those steps are especially significant since Mustard mentioned at the center’s May annual meeting that the agency is operating with an $8,000 budget deficit that should be eliminated in about a year.
While the center has been trimming expenses, it also aims to add programs to expand its impact.
Mustard is especially excited about the Pitman Institute for Aging Well.
It launched in May 2015 under the center’s umbrella to focus partly on research and learning opportunities as a think tank. Already, national speakers who have visited have expressed interest in using local seniors in national studies on issues such as brain health, Mustard said.
He sees that as huge for the institute and for the center.
“Brain health is one of the scariest aspects of aging for many people,” Mustard said.
Mustard came to the center in April 2014 as director of operations, part of a four-person leadership team that replaced Bob Pitman, who retired as the center’s executive director after nearly 30 years.The shared-leadership approach at Mill Race Center has been abandoned, however, with developments regarding the other three:
Cindy Chodan, former program and membership coordinator, left the staff earlier this year.
Beth Parkhurst, once the marketing coordinator, is now a center consultant.
Paula Herlitz, the center’s resource development director, retires at the end of the month.
Mustard credits the team with giving the center a smooth transition and firm footing after Pitman’s retirement. Now with some experience behind him, he cites elements of the organization’s history and focus easily and off the cuff in conversations.
The center operates with a nearly $1.1 million budget that funds health and intellectual activities, social outings and many other programs, some of which are popular enough to have waiting lists of participants. More than 75 of those programs, from book discussions groups to a drama troupe to basic exercise, are offered for free.
“I am very excited about the future of Mill Race Center. There are so many opportunities to support our membership, and to have a positive impact on the community,” Mustard said.
The facility’s more than 2,000 members range in age from 50 to 100, with an average of 65. Yet, he acknowledged that the age span alone for such a client base poses a challenge.
“Just trying to program the music alone can be tough,” he said.
That’s coming from a veteran pop-rock musician who once traveled nationwide full time with wife Linda as a duo, Mirror Mirror. They ditched the name, but still perform together locally, including recent participation in a Mill Race Center music gathering with the Silver Tones Choir.
Mustard loves being able to work alongside seniors such as Mary Clark, the 91-year-old choir director whose energy and verve remains in remarkable harmony with Mill Race Center’s focus on living with continued zeal.
“What an inspiration and role model to see someone still so creative and artistic,” he said. “And she’s quite a wonderful taskmaster with challenging material.”
Mustard’s background before Mill Race consisted chiefly of working with developmentally disabled clients at Gateway Services in Johnson County. For a number of years, as a job coach, Mustard accompanied people to their work training ranging from fast food to big-box hardware stores.
He not only learned the positions, but noted bosses’ management styles — and discovered that he works best with others with a more hands-off, laid-back style that allows staff to be somewhat independent self-starters.
Herlitz sees the center being placed in good hands.
“He’s worked hard with the leadership team to lower the operating deficit of Mill Race Center, which places the center in a great position to continue to move toward sustainability,” Herlitz said. “Dan has a great understanding of how the nonprofit industry works and can use that knowledge for the good of Mill Race Center.”
Lynne Hyatt, the center board president who said Mill Race was blessed with the original 2014 leadership team, especially likes Mustard’s steadiness.
“He’s a very calm and very patient person,” Hyatt said. “And he’s always willing to listen. He understands his leadership is not about Dan, but about helping others.”
However, Mustard said it is the center members who are helping others with their age-is-just-a-number perspective.
“So many of these people are still living exciting lives,” he said. “What a gift that is.
“So, this really isn’t a matter of me or of Mill Race Center doing things FOR people. Rather, it’s a matter of us saying, ‘We’ll give you the tools to find things for you to do for yourself.’”
Role: Newly promoted executive director of Mill Race Center. Had been director of operations at the center since 2014.
Born in: Hart, Michigan
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history from Asbury University near Lexington, Kentucky.
Family: Wife Linda; sons Evan, 20, and Sean, 14
On the side: Pop-rock music duo with wife Linda.
Location: 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus on the northern edge of Mill Race Park in Columbus.
Mission: To encourage people 50 and older to live active, vibrant lives while continuing to contribute significantly to the community.
Begun: In 1957 under the umbrella of the Retirement Foundation of Bartholomew County as one of the first senior centers in the state.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Separate hours for Columbus Regional Health’s fitness and rehab center.
Current facility: Opened in February 2011 at a cost of $7.8 million.
Programs/activities: Exercise, drama, discussion groups, travel, support groups, arts afternoons, senior choir, readers’ theater, wood shop and other offerings.
Membership: For people 50 and older. Annual cost is $55 per year.
Information: 812-376-9241 or millracecenter.org.