There are very few bored seniors in the Northdale area thanks to the OWLS, a group designed to network residents who are over 50.
Bill Castens, who has served on the board of the Northdale Civic Association for 11 years, founded the OWLS, which stands for “Older, Wiser, Lively Seniors."
The group had their first meeting on November 18, 2003. Since then, membership has steadily increased.
In fact, Castens says that it is tough to keep up with the numbers.
“I was originally going to have the first organizational meeting at our home," he said. "My wife said we could have two dozen guests, max. We had 66 reservations. I spoke with Rick Valdez, who is a park manager for Northdale Park, and had wanted to start a seniors club. I said that if Hillsborough County Northdale Park can provide the furniture and stuff like that, and we’ll run the organization.”
Castens discovered that the majority of attendees for the first meeting were not residents of Northdale. Not wanting to turn anyone away, Castens and the Civic Association agreed that residents who were not members of the association would pay a small annual fee of $15.
The name "OWLS" came from Van Dyke United Methodist Church, who previously had a seniors group called the OWLS. Castens and his wife were members.
“We liked the name. I told Anne when we started the group that we were going to call it the OWLS – Older, Wonderful, Loving Seniors,” Castens said. “Anne was afraid somebody would think it was a swinging group. So she said, ‘Why don’t you call it Older, Wiser, Lively Seniors?’”
The name was a perfect fit.
The OWLS now have an attendance of about 300 people to each of their monthly meetings, and a total of over 800 hundred active members.
The group hosts six to eight large events every month, as well as weekly activities that include ping pong, line dancing and yoga.
Sylvia Katz, who plans and hosts away trips for the OWLS, says their group also allows opportunities for seniors to travel. The OWLS just returned from a week long trip to New Orleans. Katz laughed with good nature as she elaborated.
“Senior citizens are living every day as if it’s their last, because it actually might be,” Katz said. “We’ve just come back from New Orleans for a week. Before we’re even off the bus they want to know where we’re going next.”
Katz says that seniors really just want to pack as much excitement and activity as possible into each day.
“Even those that don’t have a lot of money enjoy it," said Katz. “A lady said to me, ‘The only time I get to go is when you plan it, and I know I’m going to have a wonderful time.’”
The OWLS have a diverse membership. Katz says that they have members who have worked for the CIA and FBI, ex-teachers and principals and former business owners.
Becoming a member of the OWLS is easy. Anyone interested in joining can go to the OWLS section of the Northdale Civic Association website to print an application, which should be completed and mailed in along with the membership fee.
“The ‘Lively’ portion of our name is exceedingly important,” Katz said. “We don’t change diapers, we don’t medicate, we don’t feed you and we don’t drive you to and from your house. We don’t have the liability for that.”
Nonetheless, the volunteers who run the OWLS organization find a great satisfaction in their efforts.
“I think this is what God wants me to do – taking care of these seniors and giving them things to do,” said Castens. “And we’re not a sophisticated, stuck up seniors club. We start each meeting out with a little chant - and you have to flap your wings and shake your tail feathers.”
Even celebrity guests must give the chant and shake the appropriate appendages.
“The only guest we ever had who I couldn’t get to do the chant was Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee,” Castens said. “But he’s got a gun, so what can I say?”
The OWLS meet at Northdale Park 15550 Spring Pine Drive Tampa, Florida 33624 on the first Tuesday of every month at 11 a.m.