Hi-Step helps seniors stay healthy

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 8, 2014

 Sophie Barry and Bentley are among the oldest participants in the Hi-Step program, of which Barry is a co-founder.

Sophie Barry and Bentley are among the oldest participants in the Hi-Step program, of which Barry is a co-founder.

Photo by Deb Jacques


ROSEVILLE/EASTPOINTE — Three mornings every week for nearly 31 years, local seniors have been gathering to keep fit.

They are not all from Roseville — some come from Eastpointe, Chesterfield and other parts of Macomb County and the metro area. But they all want to keep moving and keep in shape, and they take the opportunity to socialize with friends while doing so.

The Hi-Step senior exercise group meets at the recreation center on Sycamore Street in Roseville every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. While members start coming in early, the routines start at 9:30 a.m. and run for about an hour, giving local seniors a chance to keep moving.

Hi-Steps member Helen Varner said that people in their 90s still come to exercise and believe that it keeps them going. She added that due to her scoliosis, the exercise group is probably keeping her out of a wheelchair.

“It’s a well-known fact that if you don’t move it, you lose it,” she said.

Hi-Stepper Ruth Samuel said that she joined about 2 1/2 years ago when she decided to exercise more and started looking for a group to do so with.

“I was looking for a group to exercise with, because I’m kind of lazy, and the other people really motivate me,” Samuel said. “We do floor exercises and wall exercises. Only six of us can do the floor ones, but everybody does the wall ones. Some seniors can’t stand up, so they do it sitting.”

She said the exercises focus on mobility, flexibility and cardio, with the time split roughly to a half hour each for floor and wall exercises. The group also holds a monthly lunch get-together, as well as a few parties throughout the year, Samuel said — the most recent being a Christmas party at the East Side Manor Dec. 20.

According to Samuel, Bonnie Pumphery and Sophie Barry started the program on Feb. 7, 1983. Barry said they started it as a way to keep active and away from the television all day.

Varner said that while the Veterans of Foreign Wars had been operating a members’ exercise program since around 1958, the two women saw a need in the broader senior community and decided to fill it.

While Pumphery is no longer able to make it to the program, at 92 years old Barry still comes to nearly all the exercise sessions, saying that without the mobility exercises, her arthritis would be very difficult to deal with.

“If it weren’t for this, I’d be long gone,” Barry said. “My husband died in the summer. He was 95, and he exercised here with me. We were married 71 years, and we were very active, so that is important.”

Varner said the Roseville recreation department, and now the Recreation Authority of Roseville & Eastpointe, have been great to work with. The group has met in its current location for a long time, deciding to stick with it even when the city opened up a separate senior center.

Varner said the exercise routine has been looked over by physical therapists throughout the area and has been approved as a good one for seniors to take up as long as they are capable. Membership has fallen since the high point in the 1990s, however, as Varner said that they used to have up to 100 people lining the walls of the entire senior center gym, with a wait list to sign up for a spot. Today, there are about 40 people on the membership rolls, with around 26 showing up to any given session.

“You can just come in here and say you want to join,” Varner said. “We’ll sign you up, and you’re good to go. We don’t charge anything. Though we have a donation can, whatever comes in there is to fund our parties.”

While the group still gets new members here and there, it also loses a few members every year to deaths or members simply being unable to continue to come, she said. Varner said she would like to see more people start coming in to take up some more of those open slots.

That sentiment of people coming out to be active and meet new friends is one that Barry, after all these years, can still get behind.

“This is like our adopted family,” she said.