Wendy Petty was appointed director of the Westport Center for Senior Activities by First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker in January, succeeding Sue Pfister, the longtime director. / Photos by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — The Westport Center for Senior Activities was abuzz with activity on a recent Friday afternoon. Several people were chatting in front of the building; the lobby was full of people coming and going as they signed in at the front desk and relaxed in easy chairs. The dining room was serving lunch, and several classes were being held in the long, beautifully appointed hall and classrooms.

It was just another day at the center, and for Wendy Petty, its new director, the bustling facility and her hardworking team make her job a dream come true.

Petty’s first day on the job was Feb. 1 succeeding Sue Pfister, the former director, who retired after 36 years working for the town.

For Petty, who was director of the Weston Senior Center for 11 years, moving to the Westport center is “the next natural step, to Weston’s sister city,” she said.

Holly Betts, assistant director at the Westport center, said it definitely has been an advantage that Petty, an experienced senior center director from a neighboring town, took over the director’s post.

“Wendy already knows a lot of seniors … they’re thrilled that she’s here, and so are we,” Betts said.

Holly Betts, a registered dietician and the center’s former program manager, has been named assistant director of the senior center. 

The Westport Center for Senior Activities welcomes an average of about 300 seniors a day who participate in 90 different programs. Lunch is also served daily to about 30 to 50 people.

The new director has spent the last month getting to know her staff of six and “immersing myself in the culture.”

A native of southern California, Petty moved to the East Coast with her husband and two sons, now adults. They lived in Weston until last year when she and her husband moved to Fairfield. 

Petty worked in the corporate world as an executive assistant, but started her career in human services — her true interest — as a volunteer. 

With a degree in counseling and human services, working in the human services arena was the path she wanted to follow. She moved from being a volunteer to a staff position, and was appointed director of the Weston Senior Center over a decade ago.

During her tenure as director, the Weston Center doubled in size and added many new programs for Weston seniors, according to its website.

Petty spent the last six weeks “getting to know the team here … the whole feeling is welcoming.” She is particularly impressed by the many programs and activities at the center, calling it “a well-oiled machine,” run by only six staff members, plus a food service organization serving lunches.

“We fall under the [Westport] Department of Human Services, which gives us a lot of opportunity to interface with other areas of the town,” she said, such as a social worker who is at the center two days a week, meeting with individuals and groups to offer mental health support.

One of her goals, so far, is to increase outside access for seniors at the Westport center,  at 21 Imperial Ave., adjacent to the town-owned Baron’s South property.

“I’d like to increase whatever access we can get to open space; it would be good for our seniors to have more access to nature,” Petty said. One way would be to expand the center’s patio, she said.

Use of the 23-acre Baron’s South open space has been the subject of controversy for years. The Planning and Zoning Commission last year approved revised regulations designed to open the property to “passive and/or organized recreation.” Much of the property, however, remains inaccessible to seniors because of its steep topography.

Petty praised Betts and Jason Wilson, the center’s program specialist, for offering an array of “very creative programs” at the center.

Programs are open to both Westport residents and residents of other towns 60 years old and over. Westport residents can enroll during the first week of a registration period online, by mail or in person, with signups open to out-of-towners the following week.

“This facility is the gold standard of senior centers,” its new director said. “There seems to be something for everybody.”

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.