Senior Valentine’s Day Ball hosts friends and couples of all ages in High Springs

Leroy Williams and his wife Gracie Williams pose for a portrait at the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball at the High Springs Civic Center on Feb. 14. The couple has been together for 44 years. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

Gracie Williams clutched her husband’s arm the same way she has for the past 44 years.

“Oh, it’s still the same after all those years,” said Gracie Williams, sporting a cherry-red colored blouse, and, who at 63, was the youngest senior at the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball on Tuesday.

Organized by Deeper Purpose Community Church in High Springs, Pastor Adam Joy said it is important the event, which entertained more than 40 North Central Florida residents of all ages, was hosted on Valentine’s Day.

“We put this on so that they can all laugh, eat and enjoy themselves,” said Joy, who has organized the Valentine’s Day Ball for the past three years.

Nearly everyone attending the ball had a positive remark to share about Joy.

Among them were Sandra Vargo and Janice Eli, who came together to the event.

“He is a blessing to this city,” said Eli, getting up to get some food from the tables across the room.

Chris Thomas (center) serves Joanne Greenstone some food to take back to her table at the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball at the High Springs Civic Center on Feb. 14. Greenstone came with her daughter to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Deeper Purpose Community Church. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

Joy offered food to everyone at the High Springs Civic Center, where the seniors gathered to celebrate the holiday. Starting at noon, the lunch spread was arranged and served by friends and volunteers.

Deaondre Jerkins, 34, a close friend of Joy’s, came to volunteer before his own Valentine’s plans with his wife, Ebony Jerkins. He said that events like this remind him of the importance of his future and that he makes similar efforts to volunteer with his church, Divine Destiny.

Jen Whitestone (left) accompanies her mother, Joanne Greenstone at the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball at the High Springs Civic Center on Feb. 14. The two spent the entire ball together, meeting other guests at their table. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

Next to him, helping serve at the food buffet, was Chris Thomas, 27. Thomas recently moved to the area from Los Angeles to be closer to his daughter Aurora Thomas, who is only 5 years old.

Aurora was among the group of preschoolers from the Deeper Purpose Church who recited Bible verses and sang songs for the seniors at the beginning of the ball.

“No one would ever do anything like this in the city,” said Thomas before going to help Deaondre Jerkins serve the food.

The spread was vast. Two types of chicken wings doused in seasoning accompanied by tin foil trays filled with yellow rice, beans, bread rolls, fruit and pineapple meatballs. At the end of the table, deserts were piled onto the second set of plates that were already served.

The seniors, who ranged in age from 63 to 86, played puzzles, chatted, danced and chatted as they sat at the three long tables beneath heart-shaped decorations. Many there were accompanied by friends instead of the typical romantic relationship associated with Valentine’s Day.

Gracie Conde and Henri Fiesler smiled and laughed their way through the event. The two friends met at a widow’s group a few years ago.

“You know, when you have friends, life gets easier,” said Fiesler as she looked at Conde in admiration.

In response, Conde smiled and said, “Yeah, we’re hanging out tonight and playing cards.”

Later, Conde was the last person on the dance floor while others headed for the door.

Stuffed animals were awarded to the youngest person, the eldest person and the person who traveled the longest to attend the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball at the High Springs Civic Center on Feb. 14. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

Watching Conde stride along the dance floor was Eyvonne Andrews and her newly acquired fluffy brown teddy bear. She sat back, waving the bear’s stuffed paw goodbye at people as they filed out. She named her bear Damien after the volunteer who gave it to her.

“I will be sitting on the sofa with him later tonight,” she said, perfectly content with this year’s Valentine’s Day gifts.

After the dancing and photos had ended and the cleaning began, people started to leave the Civic Center in pairs. Even the people who went alone were walked to their cars, assured that there was no room for loneliness on a holiday meant for love.

One of those people was Ruthie Dawson, who said she appreciated the ball.

“I appreciate having companionship here. It’s nice,” said Dawson who was on her way out with two friends she had met.

Emma Christie, 19, and Garry Riggs, 22, dance on an empty dance floor as Gracie Williams, 63, greets the young couple at the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball at the High Springs Civic Center on Feb. 14. The couple met through a mutual friend and Riggs said he appreciates the holiday more after being stationed in Germany for military service. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

When most of the guests had cleared the room, volunteers Garry Riggs, 22, and Emma Christie, 19, both from High Springs, took to the dance floor.

Christie and Riggs dance in step at the Annual Senior Citizens Valentine’s Day Ball at the High Springs Civic Center on Feb. 14. The couple waited until almost everyone had left to take to the dance floor alone. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

The remaining guests — eyes fixed on the young couple — appeared to be reminded of the feeling of young love. Christie’s boots intertwined with Riggs’ sneakers, seemed to move in a singular motion.

“I was stationed in Germany before meeting her,” said Riggs. The two agreed that it was times like these they treasured the most.

Watching the couple was Gracie Williams, the woman who came with her husband of 44 years. She whispered some advice so as not to interrupt the young couple’s moment together.

She said, “If you give love, you’re going to get love in return. So, don’t ever stop lovin’.”

About Augustus Hoff

Augustus is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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