Kudos: Senior volunteer keeps the fun rolling

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Roger Labbe talks to his cribbage partner in the midst of a hand on Thursday morning at The Lewiston Armory. Labbe runs the weekly cribbage group. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Kudos: Senior volunteer keeps the fun rolling

By Andrew Rice, Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Roger Labbe arrives every at 8 a.m. every Thursday at the Lewiston Recreation Department to unlock the doors and begin preparations for the cribbage group he oversees. 

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By the time Labbe arrives, there are usually a few seniors waiting to get in. By 9 a.m., the official start time, there are an average of 15 tables of players shuffling cards and chatting.

“They look forward to Thursday mornings so they can be with other people — their friends,” Labbe said at the Lewiston Armory building last week. “It gets pretty loud in here sometimes.” 

To accommodate between 50 and 70 people, there is an overflow room normally in use with more tables. 

Labbe, a retired Lewiston Middle School teacher, has been volunteering for the Lewiston Senior Citizens group for a decade, running the weekly cribbage group and taking on additional duties as president of the board of directors for four years. 

But for Labbe, it doesn’t feel like volunteering.

He said running the program means he gets to spend time with friends, playing cribbage and bridge. He takes advantage of the other senior activities, as well as annual trips planned by the group. Next year they’re going to Iceland.

When he’s not in Lewiston, he helps out with a biweekly senior luncheon in Lisbon Falls, where he lives with his wife. There, and in Lewiston, people know Labbe because of his involvement with the senior groups. 

“It’s such an experience meeting all these new people, and making these new acquaintances,” he said. “When people see me (in the community) they say hello, and it’s just a good feeling.” 

Labbe, 68, is a native of Van Buren. He attended the University of Maine at Fort Kent and moved to the Lewiston area. 

He taught science to eighth-graders for 33 years, retiring in 2006. Shortly after retiring, he began playing bridge with the Lewiston Seniors and eventually he stepped up when the Recreation Department needed someone to run the cribbage group. 

According to the city website, membership in the Lewiston Senior Citizens is open to all residents in Lewiston and surrounding communities who are 50 and older. The cost is $10 per year and includes a monthly mailed newsletter.

Labbe says the group is always in need of more volunteers, including people willing to run their own programs, whether it’s a book club or Scrabble group. 

“Anything to get seniors out of the house and into this organization,” he said. 

Jason Hanken, superintendent of Lewiston Recreation, said last week that the department wouldn’t be able to offer many of its programs without the presence of volunteers. 

“It simply would not be possible,” he said in an email. “We have over 100 (regular) volunteers that help throughout the year.” 

Hanken estimated that Labbe’s weekly cribbage group is among the largest active groups in the state. 

“We are lucky to have him and the other senior leaders who head up some of the games throughout the week,” Hanken said. 

The Lewiston bridge group, where Labbe also plays, is part of a national organization and is also headed up by a volunteer. 

For the cribbage group, Estelle Bosse is among the first to arrive each Thursday. She doesn’t even know how to play. She makes the coffee, sets out some baked goods and takes $1 from every player to create a pool for winners. She keeps track, then dishes out the winnings. 

She called Thursday’s attendance “a small group,” compared to most weeks. 

Cribbage, originating in England, is a card game that involves playing and grouping cards in combinations which gain points. It’s distinctive with its wooden scoring board with colored pegs. 

Bosse’s husband is among the players, and he’s about 90 percent blind. Labbe said he hasn’t missed a Thursday cribbage group for four years. 

“He’s the only one,” Labbe said. “It’s amazing.” 

Later on Thursdays, he goes to another cribbage group hosted at a nearby American Legion hall. Bosse joked that he plays cribbage, takes a nap, then plays cribbage again. 

Each week, Labbe also runs a tight ship. The game is played in pairs, but no one team is allowed to stick together week-to-week. Teams are created based on picking cards. Labbe said that way it’s fair and players are guaranteed different interactions each week. 

Running the group is very different from being in charge of a classroom full of middle school students, he said. 

“This is pleasant,” he said. “It’s therapy for me.”

A full list of programs and activities for Lewiston Seniors can be found here.

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