End Of An Era: AAA’s Alan Smith To Retire
Perhaps one senior citizen summed it up best Friday when she informed Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Alan Smith that his proposed retirement on November 30 would mark the “end of an era.”
Rightly so as Smith has logged a total of 36 years with the agency that serves Fulton County and neighboring Huntingdon and Bedford counties. Looking back to his first three years as deputy administrator for the Call-A-Ride Transportation (CART) and the last 33 years as executive director, Smith has served the area’s people diligently and tirelessly missing only three days of employment due to sickness.
Following a Citizens Advisory Council meeting Friday at the Hopewell Senior Center, Smith sat down with the “News” to discuss his fondest memories as well as what the future will hold for not only the AAA but for him and his wife, Gwen.
Smith said prior to Fulton County signing a joinder agreement on June 16, 1978, with Huntingdon and Bedford counties, county officials here were already “doing their own thing” to help seniors. Described by Smith as “innovative,” the executive director said officials were overseeing home-delivered meals through the use of two vans.
Reluctant to meet with an outsider, Smith said, after much “resistance” from the then board of county commissioners, he managed to get set an appointment in hopes of getting the ball rolling for a joinder of services.
“(Commissioner) Delmar Mellott said I could come, but ‘we don’t appreciate people carrying briefcases,’” Smith said.
Taking Mellott’s advice to heart even today, Smith refrained from carrying a briefcase but did take with him the names of his connection to Fulton County – uncle and aunt Franklin “Huck” and Sara Smith of Fort Littleton. The change in the commissioners’ demeanor was instantaneous, and Smith was able to work with the board on establishing a partnership unlike any other they’d had in the past, that included equal voting privileges for all of the counties and an equitable distribution of money and services.
Citing ”personalities such as former county commissioners Ellis Yingling, Bob Garlock and Gary Decker, Smith said the friendships and bonds with county commissioners, state-elected officials and the Citizens Advisory Council have continued to grow over time. In addition to those bonds, another constant has been Smith’s pledge to “never forget Fulton County.” His weekly visits to Fulton County have always been much-anticipated by staff as well as area seniors looking for the opportunity to pull on Smith’s ear for a few minutes.
Smith said in addition to establishing the joinder with Fulton County, he was also part of a “building era” here. Funding through the Community Development block grants enabled the construction of senior centers in McConnellsburg, Warfordsburg and Hustontown. Smith recalled the “joyous” Friday night that Commissioner Garlock personally called him with the news that Hustontown area resident Betty Malot agreed to donate the land the northern-most senior center currently sits on.
“Bob (Garlock) was excited as any kid on Christmas Day to hear about Betty’s offer,” Smith stated.
Guardianship has also played a large role in recent years in the AAA, and McConnellsburg-based attorney Jim Schall was touted by the AAA’s executive director as being instrumental in that service coming to fruition here.
“Jim was our first connection with the court system,” Smith said. “He had a great relationship with the judges and making first contact for the petition process.”
Currently, there are 20 cases of guardianship and power of attorney involving local residents and AAA in Fulton County. In the tricounty region, Smith serves as guardian for approximately 65 individuals.
“It’s all about interconnection and fellowship. You can’t run this from behind a desk. You have to be out with the people ... . You have to be a person, not a bureaucrat,” Smith said, who referenced the routine Citizens Advisory Council meetings as one of the highlights of the job.
An opportunity to sit down with appointed seniors from the tri-county region during the advisory meetings and hear their concerns, Smith, 64, noted what comes along with that are the stories, the wisdom that comes with age and the benefits of learning from that generation. Those meetings and other special events also provide the perfect opportunity for Smith and his staff to help spread the word about programs, keep AAA’s services in the forefront and most importantly improve upon the quality of life.
Referring to his years of service as a “rewarding and joyous journey,” Smith indicated none of it would have been possible without the “team effort” of seniors and elected officials.
With only four weeks remaining until his retirement takes effect, plans are already in place to take the AAA into the new year having the technical knowledge of programs as well as a deep understanding of compliance issues. AAA Deputy Administrator Anne Harvey of McConnellsburg is slated to serve as interim executive director for the months of December and January. Commissioners from the tri-county area hope to have a permanent replacement in place by February, Smith said.
Looking ahead to his own future, even though he and his wife, Gwen, have tentative plans to travel, Smith is already leaning toward serving and remaining active in the community. Thinking about once again lending his expertise and services to the Saxton Borough Council, Smith also remains steadfast that he will remain an advocate for seniors by possibly volunteering for programs ranging from guardianship to Medicare open enrollment.