McCrabb: New senior center director traveled from Reno to Middletown; ‘all the pieces came together’

Diane Rodgers has served as executive director of Central Connections since the end of November. She served a similar position in Reno, Nev., and moved to be closer to her daughter. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Diane Rodgers has served as executive director of Central Connections since the end of November. She served a similar position in Reno, Nev., and moved to be closer to her daughter. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

When members of Central Connections, Middletown’s senior center, meet Diane Rodgers, they always ask where she lived and worked before.

“Reno, Nevada,” she tells them.

That’s when they reach to adjust their hearing aids.

“Did you say Reno?” they ask. “The one in Nevada?”

Rodgers, who oversaw a senior center and worked with the homeless population in Reno, was interested in moving from the West Coast to be closer to her daughter, Naomi Smith, 22, a recent Seton Hall graduate who lives in New York.

When she saw an opening for executive director of Central Connections, she applied, was interviewed on Zoom, then flew to Middletown where she was offered and accepted the position.

“All the puzzle pieces came together,” she said. “They fit perfectly.”

She started at the end of November and in the first several weeks, has fallen in love with the Middletown community and the center’s members. She is 50 and thoroughly enjoys sitting down and getting to know the members.

They all have life stories and she wants to hear their tales.

“Sometimes they take me hostage,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s great learning from their knowledge. They always teach me something. My heart loves them so much.”

While in Reno, Rodgers worked closely with some of the 3,000 homeless residents there. When Middletown was looking to open a overnight warming center for its homeless, Rodgers offered the use of a vacant building behind the center on Central Avenue.

Eventually, the city selected a different location, but Rodgers made her point: “I want to help the homeless, but I also think you should help yourself. We need to work as a team to get the issue solved. Helping people is part of my DNA.”

She said the senior center needs to do a better job of attracting younger seniors, those in their 50s and 60s. Businesses that depend on 80- and 90-year-old members can’t last forever.

“We’ve got to grow and expand,” she said.

Rodgers, a second-degree black belt, hosted a self defense class on Friday that attracted 13 members. They wanted to take additional classes so she hopes to instruct once a month.

Rodgers and her husband, Scott, who sold his martial arts business in Nevada, live in Hunter and are horse riding enthusiasts. Their two horses, an Arabian and quarter horse, recently arrived from Reno and are stabled at Greentree Stables.

Then Reno was brought back up. Rodgers laughed and said people think she lived in Las Vegas, located about eight hours from Sin City. We have a few horse racing tracks, slots machines and sports books. But Ohio never will be confused with Vegas.

“People here are so friendly and so kind,” she said sounding like a commercial for living in the Midwest. “People out West are just so tight and mad at the world.”

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