Young at heart

Young at heart

Gene Michales and Solo SENIORS co-founder Nancy Canolty chat over coffee before the coffee roasting tour begins. The Valentine’s Day event continued the SoloSENIORS tradition of planning activities on holidays.

Photo by: Beth Newman

Love, as well as the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, is in the air at the Jittery Joe’s Coffee Roasting Company on East Broad Street. It is Valentine’s Day but the small group of men and women touring the facility are greeted with hard hats and grinders instead of roses and champagne.

“Look at this,” Gene Michaels (BS ’58, MS ’61, PhD ’67) says to Nancy Canolty as he wraps his weathered fingers around the cardboard hand protector on his steaming cup of brew. “This is really something.”

Michaels and Canolty are former UGA professors who remain friends through SoloSENIORS, a social networking group for retired singles in Athens and the surrounding areas.

Canolty and Bonnie Howard (BBA ’47, MBA ’50) created SoloSENIORS in 2006 with the UGA Alumni Association as a way to interact and network with other singles over 50.

“I was married for 33 years…so I was in Athens as part of a couple,” Canolty says. “When I was widowed, I thought there have to be more people in this situation.”

She was right. In two years, SoloSENIORS membership has grown from four to more than 75 members. Members meet once a month for dinner at an Athens-area restaurant and in between get together for Gym Dogs meets, movies and lectures on campus.

In March, SoloSENIORS held its first mini-conference, “Deciding for Yourself,” which provided professional advice for successful aging.

While the larger functions attract bigger crowds, some of the greatest friendships that have evolved from SoloSENIORS began with a little courage and a simple phone call.

Joan Zitzelman (ABJ ’61, MA ’63) and Rene Plaisance (PhD ’94) attended a Gym Dogs meet together after discovering they both enjoy gymnastics.

“That led us to purchase season tickets for all 2008 home competitions and tickets for the national championships in late April,” Zitzelman says. “Rene also joined me to attend some of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championships in Athens.”

Rather than spend Thanksgiving alone, Tina Carlson responded to a SoloSENIORS invitation and wound up sharing the holiday meal with three members she did not know. Turns out she and one of the other members share an interest in dogs.

“We ended up meeting at a herding dog trial north of town two days later,” Carlson says. “It was my first—I wouldn’t have known had she not mentioned it.”

From large conferences to intimate bridge games, SoloSENIORS has become a social community for energetic singles ready to mingle. “We can go in any direction we want,” says Tami Gardner, the UGA Alumni Association’s director of regional programs and alumni tours.

The Athens’ group’s success has sparked interest in other cities. Chapters in Fulton County and Augusta are under way.

“It has completely redefined my definition of what some people would call old,” Gardner says. “I can’t keep up with these people.”

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For more information on SoloSENIORS, go to or call the UGA Alumni Association at (706) 542-2251