CLASSMATES BECOME A FAMILY — The Hancock County Senior Center in New Cumberland is the site of an ongoing exercise program being run for seniors throughout the area. Instructor Sue Isner, far left, teaches approximately 50 to 60 exercises to more than 30 participants every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Among the attendees is 93-year-old Delores Dunlevy, front row, second from left. Men and women take part in the hour-long program, which Isner runs for free. Those in the program are between the ages of 65 and 95, with most enrollees being in their 80s. Real results have been seen and felt from group, which keeps them coming back each week.
— Julie Stneger

NEW CUMBERLAND — Her mission is to help people live their best lives. Her purpose is to give others hope.

And she is teaching seniors how to exercise in ways that can change them for the better.

Sue Isner has spent the last five years as the program assistant for Family and Community Development for the West Virginia University Hancock County Extension Office.

She previously worked for two fitness businesses, teaching exercises for the purpose of losing weight. Today, she teaches exercises to approximately 30 to 40 seniors at the Hancock County Senior Center.

Sessions take place from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the center, located on Gas Valley Road in New Cumberland. Attendance fluctuates due to some people having a doctor’s appointment, surgery, inclement weather or other matters.

SEEING RESULTS — Arm movements are among the many exercises being performed in Sue Isner’s exercise class at the Hancock County Senior Center. Participants do most of the exercises while seated, utilizing every part of their body. Members of the class all say they have seen results which have helped improve their health and mobility.
— Julie Stenger

“I tell everyone to come when they can,” Isner said.

And they do. There were 30 people in attendance April 2 — the morning several inches of hard rain caused flash flooding throughout the Tri-State Area.

“I started the class Nov. 15, 2022. Six people had signed up. By the end of January, there were 20 signed up.”

“I tell everyone from the beginning this is a no-judgment class,” she continued. “You do the exercises as best you can and if anything hurts, stop and improvise by moving in a different manner. The goal is to keep moving.”

There are those in the class who use canes or a walker.

FROM TEACHER TO FRIEND — New Cumberland resident Pam Richard, left, is one of the many participants who attends exercise classes being offered by instructor Sue Isner. Isner leads more than 30 seniors in various exercises three days a week at the Hancock County Senior Center.
— Julie Stenger

Their ages range from 65 to 95. Several individuals are in their 80s and eight men take part in the program, she noted.

Everyone signing up for the class receives a list of exercises and tips on aging gracefully.

The emphasis is on seeking joy in life by continuing to move in order to stay fit and active.

The class lasts an hour and consists of warm-up and cool-down exercises. There are 56 exercises which are done in that hour, Isner explained. However, most are repetitive for each part of the body. If counting, they add up to more.

“I started out using some examples of exercises from the WVU program Active for Life,” she explained. “I researched and kept adding to include every part of the body.”

WORK OUT — Instructor Sue Isner taught more than 50 exercises to those aged 65 to 93 at the Hancock County Senior Center in New Cumberland. The April 2 exercise class went on despite the pouring rain which caused flash flood warnings that morning. The dedicated classmates use scarves for some of the exercises, which are done while sitting and standing behind a chair.
— Julie Stenger

Isner included hand, finger and eye exercises.

“I try to make everyone feel welcome and acknowledge their presence in some way,” she continued. “I genuinely miss them when they miss class. Most will tell me if they’re not coming.”

In speaking with Isner and those in the exercise class, the consensus was the group is more like a family.

One person will say something and someone else will chime in with a comment which has the entire class laughing.

“We have a lot of fun,” Isner said. “I have a few I call the ‘rowdy bunch’ because they are always laughing. Sometimes I miscount and they call me on it and we have a good laugh.”

She said there are quite a few who have met new friends and the class has become somewhat of a social event.

Those who participate come from all walks of life, Isner stated. There are housepainters, nurses, teachers and physical therapists. There also are those who worked in veterinary clinics, mechanics, retired ministers, truck drivers, horse trainers, housewives and desk clerks.

“Everyone is so nice and friendly,” she added. “It’s just a great bunch to be around. And after class, quite a few gathers for lunch at the center. In fact, the first question asked most in class is, ‘What’s for lunch?’ And the Hancock Senior Center does its best to provide a nutritious and healthy lunch for everyone for a cost of $5.”

Some of the exercises done in the class include arm circles, which consists of clasping one’s hands together and making large circles with their arms; eye movements; bending to touch toes while sitting in a chair; head movements from left, center and right; and “driving to Pittsburgh” where everyone turns in their seat and looks over their shoulder to see if “traffic” is coming.

Each movement is done either 10 or 15 times and then another exercise immediately begins. There are between 50 and 60 various exercises done within the hour.

There are bicycling movements done from the chair, swim-stroke movements with the arms, tapping of feet, simultaneous leg lifts and pushups where one lifts themselves off their seat using their arms.

Isner recently had a 95-year-old woman enroll in the class. She stated her new student is sharp as a tack, has good balance and was utilizing the treadmill prior to the start of class. Isner said she did higher chair-pushups than anyone else and outdid all of the participants during the exercises.

“She was amazing,” Isner commented, noting the woman still drives herself, as does her 93-year-old attendee, Delores Dunlevy. Dunlevy began exercising in the program in February.

She stated she attends as many classes as she can each week because the program helps her with her blood pressure and legs.

“My daughter said, ‘Mom, you need exercise for your sugar and your hands.’ So I started coming here a couple of months ago and it has really helped.”

Dunlevy is extremely active in her daily life. She serves on the board at Tomlinson Run Park, is a member of the Chester Lions Club and attends the Chester Methodist Church. She said she has seven children and 61 grandchildren, so she has to remain active.

Those who have taken Isner’s classes expressed their gratitude to her and their appreciation for the program.

Flo Jonezak began attending classes in February, as well.

The Weirton resident travels to the senior center with her son, Michael Jon of New Cumberland. Jon started his mom on the exercise routine at the center.

Jonezak said the classes are great and she is happy she started going to the program.

Pam Richard is another member of the Tuesdays group. The former Weirton resident now lives in New Cumberland because she could not use the stairs in her apartment.

Richard spent 46 years working at Weirton Medical Center. She ended up getting a fracture, along with blood clots and wounds. So, she found herself having to retire and go through home health.

“I still have arthritis,” she stated. “I was doing the leg exercises which benefited me because I can’t stand for very long. But I can do these chair exercises and that has helped me to improve a lot.”

Richard explained if she were still home and not participating in the class with Isner, she would not be performing the exercises anymore. This class gives her the motivation to keep working on those leg exercises, she said.

Linda Gibas began attending Isner’s exercise class in January 2023.

“Several months ago, I started the class with weak legs and an unsteady body,” Gibas said. “This class has undoubtedly improved my flexibility, as well as my stability. I am not only walking better, but I’m feeling so much better, too. I am so thankful there is something like this to help people get fit and improve their overall health. I really can’t say enough good things about the class.”

One of Isner’s very first participants, Rosalie Lebec, started attending classes in November 2022. Lebec said she enjoys going because after class, she feels like she is doing something positive about her health.

“I enjoy coming because Sue makes everyone feel welcome and makes it a point to learn our names,” she added. “We are serious about the exercises but have a lot of fun, too.”

Kathy Vicker Smith has been going to the senior center for more than a year. She said she joined the class thinking it would be a waste of time.

“I was wrong,” she exclaimed. “I have a bad shoulder which I’m being forced to use and it seems to be getting much better. My balance is also improving.”

“At first, I was hesitant in believing the program would help me in any way,” explained Pamela Riggi, who came to the center Jan. 5, 2023. “But I find that I have more balance and have very little trouble going up and down steps. I can finally bend over to pick items up that I have dropped on the floor.”

“It has given me a purpose in knowing I will enjoy other people’s company,” Riggi continued. “I’ve seen many participants improve their mobility, as well as I have in our every-day activities.”

Riggi thanked Isner for beginning the program which has been instrumental to so many.

“In the two months I’ve been attending, I’ve noticed an improvement in my ability to navigate stairs and to carry items such as grocery bags and laundry baskets,” stated enrollee Carol Brown. “Backaches are less than before and I fall asleep more readily.”

Jan Eaton started exercising with the group Jan. 10, 2023. Her reason for going was to help with her balance and stamina.

“My arms are stronger now and I can get out of the bathtub easier,” she said. “All of the exercises have helped me move about better and attending the class gives me a good feeling.”

Robert Staub has a whole new outlook on life after taking Isner’s class. He has been an active participant since May.

Staub stated his joint are no longer stiff and he now has the desire to get out of bed every morning.

“I can walk further with less heavy breathing,” he stated. “I can sit in a chair and bend down to put on and tie my shoes. The sessions are an opportunity for socialization and helps me mentally.”

Staub added Isner always ensures no one is embarrassed to do the exercises and that she is “very encouraging to each individual.”

“She makes it easy to follow directions and provides assurance to the participants to accomplish whatever they are able to do to just keep moving,” he concluded.

Fred Hazelton complimented Isner on her leadership over the exercise class.

“Her gentle demeanor and humble attitude allows each of us to exercise at our own pace without feeling pressured,” he said.

“The program of stretching and strengthening muscles gives a complete workout,” Hazelton said. “I have a strain of my left knee and her classes allowed me to recover at my own pace without a strict schedule from a physical therapist, where you have to recover at a rate set by an insurance company. After two months, my knee is pain-free, the joint is more stable and stronger and I am back to riding my motorcycle with confidence.”

Cindy Skerbetz has been a member of the class for more than a year. She explained prior to exercising with Isner, she had pain and difficulty lying down and raising her arms above her head when getting X-rays taken. However, since doing the arm exercises, having a CT scan done was easier and pain-free.

“All of the exercises make a difference in everyday activities and chores,” Skerbetz said. “The class has helped my knees, ankles and balance, as well as being fun. And the camaraderie and laughter keep everyone going mentally. Sue makes the class fun for everyone.”

John Foster commented the class helped with his arthritis, neuropathy, blood pressure and balance.

“The classes are a great place to meet new friends and socialize,” he stated. “I enjoy going to them all three days of the week and try not to miss them.”

Dorothy Swearingen joined in July.

“I have noticed I am able to turn my body with more ease as I drive in reverse into my garage and as I pull out into traffic,” she said. “The stretching exercises are great.”

“On November 8, 2022, I had a stroke and had to have open-heart surgery,” exclaimed Charlie Heid. “With the help of my family, I recovered from the surgery. I knew I needed to change my lifestyle and went to the exercise class. It has made a big difference in my health and exercise habits.”

George Whelan said the exercises have helped him tremendously. He noted he enjoys going to class and socializing with others.

Whelan even taught the class twice when Isner had to miss a couple of sessions.

But she tries to never miss a class because she believes in being there for her attendees and helping them on their journey toward improving their health and physical issues.

Anyone interested in joining one of Isner’s classes can e-mail her at [email protected].

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