Baby Boomers, who are the estimated 76 million people born in the United States between 1946 and 1964, have definitely changed the nation and the world for the better, from the civil rights movement to the mobile digital device, which literally provide access to all the world’s knowledge in the palm of a hand.
But as more Boomers are retiring, many continue influencing society in other vital ways, such as by keeping in shape, staying healthy, keeping fit, or regaining good form, both physically and mentally.
That’s where Phyllis Whittaker, a volunteer fitness instructor with the Lark Community Center, has made her presence felt by leading a popular exercise program at that facility, which hosts education, social and recreational activities designed for Baby Boomers.
“I never gave it any thought, it just happened. It evolved,” the longtime Valley resident, who grew up in Earlville, Illinois, recalled of her decision a decade-and-a-half ago to become a volunteer fitness instructor. “I hope I can do it for another 15 years.”
Mary Villarreal, an area community and business leader, and a former City Secretary for Edinburg, is one of the many grateful beneficiaries of Whittaker’s volunteerism.
“Fifteen years of volunteer service is remarkable and admirable by any standard, and Phyllis is certainly deserving of honorable recognition and praise,” said Villarreal. “That is why many of us who participate in her fitness programs are calling attention to her public service.”
As a former City Secretary in Edinburg, Villarreal understands the importance of deserving individuals receiving public recognition for their achievements or milestones.
In her capacity as City Secretary, Villarreal would prepare city proclamations, which were approved by the mayor and city councilmembers, to honor Edinburg residents.
“It was only natural that Phyllis’ students wanted to give her the credit she deserves,” said Villarreal. “I enjoy seeing people getting recognized for the things they do.”
Whittaker, a retired science educator with a Master’s Degree in Library Science from Texas Women’s University in Denton, says she gains as many, if not more, blessings from leading the morning sessions, which focus on age-appropriate exercises involving stretching, walking aerobics, and weight lifting.
“Besides my cats getting me up in the morning, this is good for me. I enjoy the physical activities, but the social connection is important, too,” she said. “People who exercise at home only receive half of the benefits. Here, we become friends, do things together.”
A graduate of Pan American University with a Bachelor’s Degree in the sciences (biology/chemistry, physics), Whittaker decades later signed up for the free exercise sessions at Lark Community Center.
A classroom educator by profession, she taught thousands of McAllen students in middle school and in high school over the span of her professional life. As she moved into her retirement, she became a student at the same fitness program she now leads.
“Our fitness instructor was married and became pregnant, so she had to resign to focus on her family,” Whittaker said. “By then, I had learned quite a bit from her, so I volunteered (for no pay) to take her place.”
Whittaker said she did not have any professional training in physical education, “but I still had the experience to teach a class.”
As time went on, at least 500 people from throughout the region have participated in the fitness program taught by her. There is no charge for anyone to attend any of the exercise sessions.
“I did it because it was needed, and I just pretty much did what our former fitness instructor had developed for us,” she said.
Whittaker’s loyal fitness program participants draw strength from her and her classes in more ways than one.
“We are appreciative of Phyllis, who reassures us that we can have an exercise program that benefits us but doesn’t involve pain or discomfort,” Villarreal said. “Her dedication to her fitness students here at Lark Community Center is such that she even led our classes while she was under medical care for a neck problem. She demonstrates her love for her community, and speaking on behalf of everyone who has been involved in her classes, the feeling is mutual.”
Whittaker takes it all in stride, saying she doesn’t volunteer with the intent of generating positive press.
“It is just as good for me,” Whittaker reflects on her volunteer services. “It keeps me healthy and going.”
Whittaker was humbled by the attention, but quickly noted there are many other volunteers, either as individuals or as members of a group, who share their skills, talents and time like she does.
For example, there are more than 100 volunteers for different programs at the Lark Community Center, which is located at 2601 Lark Avenue.
There are two other such facilities also operated by the City of McAllen: Las Palmas Community Center at 1921 N. 25th and Palmview Community Center at 3401 Jordan Road.
“The City of McAllen is looking for volunteers who would like to share their time and talent with our staff and residents of our growing community,” according to the McAllen’s city website. “Our city welcomes volunteers and their involvement in many areas and capacities that may provide short term work experience or long term work knowledge.”
As a volunteer one may gain more than work experience, one can fulfill the quench for knowledge as well as learning new experiences, the city website further states.
The City of McAllen has many different areas you may volunteer in. For further information please feel free to contact the City of McAllen Volunteer Coordinator at (956) 681-1045. https://www.mcallen.net/departments/parks/community-centers