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Friday, March 29, 2019

Deb Cyprych, Advocate for Local Senior Citizens, Retires from Hyde Park Center for Older Adults

Former Executive Director of the Hyde Park Center for Older Adults (HPC), Deb Cyprych, was honored for her distinguished 29-year tenure. Her retirement party, attended by family, current and former board members, HPC staff, volunteers, and donors, was held at The Syndicate in Newport, Kentucky. 

Deb with her family attending her retirement party
Many individuals shared laudatory comments including former board president Burr Robinson who remarked, “Many thanks for the investment you have made in many hundreds of lives over the past 29 years. Your leadership, dedication and devotion has been truly remarkable!” 

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the only event celebrating Deb’s dedicated service to seniors. Members of HPC threw a party for their beloved director the week prior to wish her well. 

Along with social events, Deb’s peers in the Association of Professionals in Aging recognized her with the “Outstanding Service Provider in the Field of Aging Award” at a luncheon and noted, “Under Deb’s leadership, the Center increased revenue; added staff; and expanded its service area from two to seven neighborhoods. While coping with the funding shortages that challenge many senior centers, Hyde Park Center has continued to achieve positive results for thousands of older adults through transportation, meals, case management, and wellness activities.” 

Deb attributes her sensitivity and interest in aging to her grandmother, who lived with her family for ten years while Deb was growing up. After graduating with a major in English from Wittenberg University in 1977, Deb worked at the Northern Kentucky Legal Aid Society from 1979-1988 holding a variety of positions in the area of elder law. In 1989 she was hired as Executive Director at HPC. 
Deb Cyprych, speaking to the guests honoring her at her retirement party at The Syndicate 

Deb has observed significant change during the past three decades. Topping the list is shifts in funding. “It’s a testament to hard work, as well as effective and careful investment, that the HPC is still open,” said Deb. “I’ve always appreciated we are an independent agency – we make our own decisions. The downside is there’s nobody else to fall back on when things get tough.” 

Back in the early 1990s,  funding was less precarious, and there was more support from government programs and charitable organizations. Today, it seems more emphasis is placed on funding services for children. “Certainly that is important,” agreed Deb, but she also questioned, “What about the other end of the spectrum where there are older people? Aren’t their lives valuable too? They need more support.” 

Concurrent with the dip in federal funding was the elimination of funding in 2015 from the City of Cincinnati. Thankfully, as government funds dried up, foundations and donors stepped in and responded generously to appeals. 

Deb summed up, “HPC has remained open due to mutual effort. We’ve tried to invest thoughtfully. Our donor base has helped a lot. And we’ve been parsimonious about expenses even though at times it’s been difficult. As they say, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned,’ and we’ve tried to apply that.”

Helping HPC stay afloat also included its generous and accommodating landlord, Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Their 100-year old building, a former church on the corner of Erie and Shaw Avenues, is one block from Hyde Park Square. “ERS has always been a wonderful partner and supportive of everything we do.”

Another change she noted from her early days is that back then many of the female members had not worked outside the home. They used the Center as a gathering place. A large group of “regulars” at HPC would arrive for lunch and stay for activities and socialization.  

Today’s population tends to have been employed longer and already possesses a broad spectrum of interests and networks. Nowadays, more people come to HPC for specific events or simply a meal.  To respond to that change, the HPC often follows lunch with an afternoon program so people are more inclined to stay. 

What hasn’t changed is the stigma against senior centers and aging. Deb pointed to examples, like greeting cards and media portrayals, where the aging bias is uncomplimentary and untrue. Not surprisingly, older adults don’t want to admit they are aging. She believes, “Age is in the spirit of the person.” 

She cited a 100-year old HPC member who didn’t feel like she was old until she was 85. “At that point, she joined the Center, and then she loved it.” Deb added, “Aging is a perception problem. Senior centers are places to grow and thrive, meet new people, get involved, and volunteer.” 

Deb commended the dedicated staff at HPC, many of whom have worked there for decades. Currently, there are eleven full and part-time staff members. “They truly care about the people we serve. They bend over backward for them. They live the mission.” 

Deb also is appreciative of the dozens of board members who have shared their time and resources throughout the years. “We have had wonderful board members who have helped in so many ways - from fundraising to developing new policies to sharing contacts.”

Under Deb’s watch, four service areas were created. The first is meals; the HPC prepares luncheons for seniors three times a week. “Meals are cooked on site; we set menus that are approved by dietitians. The tables are set for four people, which makes them conversational. Not only is there nutritional sustenance, but it’s helpful for members to be with other people, to get out of their house and be social. I’ve seen many friendships develop.” 

Members in poor health or lack income can use two of the other services: transportation and case management. “Our transportation service ranges from driving people to the doctor, to bringing them to the center, to taking them on an errand. We help people gain mobility who would be otherwise isolated.

“The case management program is valuable, and not all senior centers offer this. We say that our social worker is like a surrogate daughter. She is a Masters-prepared professional counselor and is licensed as an Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program advisor to help with Medicare issues. She cuts through complexity and helps people solve problems such as getting them benefits to which they are entitled, like Medicare and food stamps. She handles bill paying if members have vision problems, or can accompany people to the doctor, so there’s another listening ear. She keeps an eye on people to ensure they aren’t exploited. Our goal is to keep people at home as long as they are safe, but she can help with the next level, too.”

Finally, the fourth service area they have implemented is the wellness activities program. Deb said, “It includes activities both at and out of the center that bring people together. We sponsor educational events, music, exercise, trips, parties, classes, recreation, screenings and volunteering. Our goal is to create an interesting social environment.”

Deb left the HPC in the capable hands of newly-appointed Executive Director Shelley Goering.  “It was a joy and privilege to lead HPC. My overriding hope is that there is support from the community to continue funding and keep it going. It took energy and vision to start. There is still no change in the fact that seniors need help to be with each other, to be valued, to be supported. This will never change. I want the center to continue another 44 years because the needs are still so great.”

And what about Deb’s future plans? Besides renovating her historic home and spending more time with her daughter and three grandchildren, she is turning her genealogical avocation into a full-time vocation. Her passion became rooted at HPC in 1993 as she was developing humanities programs. “I heard about another center that offered genealogy classes. It didn’t appeal to me personally, so I looked for volunteers to run it. I couldn’t find a volunteer, so I went to the library and found a Boy Scout manual that included a genealogy badge and read that. It advised looking up the US census of your grandparents on microfilm. I found my grandmother as a child in 1880 and 1890 and I was amazed. Hooked!”

“I also found an expert at HPC – Ruth Stechschulte. We taught a six-week class, and ten people signed up. When the series was complete, everyone wondered – what’s next? Well, we’ve continued to meet once a month ever since,” Deb laughed. “Of course, the field has changed – back then, online resources didn’t exist, and you had to write or visit courthouses to locate documents. Very little was indexed, and you cranked through rolls of microfilm to find records.” 

Yet it was because of that experience at HPC that Deb eventually became editor of the award-winning Tracer, the quarterly journal of the Hamilton County Genealogical Society. She held that role from 2001-2016 and was then appointed Editor of the NGS Magazine published by the National Genealogical Society.

She even created a genealogy fundraiser for HPC  based on the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?”  Local celebrities invited Deb to research their families, and she revealed interesting stories in front of an audience. She and her former staff organized four of these annual “Celebrity Genealogy Galas.” Currently, she’s writing a book about a family’s ancestors, which includes a United States vice-president and several signers of the Declaration of Independence. Deb also offers expertise in German research. She can read the language, including old German script.

Helping families discover their roots will be an intriguing venture, but Deb will certainly miss her extended family at the HPC. Board member Janet Buening of Hyde Park summed up Deb’s contributions: “You have helped us all to grow, told our stories, touched our hearts – and because we knew you, both the Center and everyone who is part of it in any way have been changed for good.” 

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