Our History

The First Established Council on Aging

The Needham Council on Aging, the first formally established Council on Aging (COA) in Massachusetts, was brought into existence by a vote of Town Meeting members on October 10, 1957, primarily through the efforts of Dr. Dorothea Willgoose.

Dr. Dorothea Willgoose

In a day when there were few women physicians, Dr. Willgoose was a pioneer and a perceptive, energetic Needham resident who contributed to the establishment of Needham agencies serving all ages. However, her special interest was in meeting the needs of Needham's elder residents.

In 1962, when she was appointed chairperson, the COA began to offer an Information and Referral Center for Needham elders that was open for three hours on three weekdays in space donated by the YMCA.

Progression of the Center

Two years later the center moved to the basement of Town Hall and became a drop-in center open five days a week with staff that offered:

  • A shoppers' bus
  • Day trips
  • Health lectures
  • Information
  • Keep Well Clinics
  • Legal assistance
  • Referrals
  • Social activities
  • Traveling meals
  • Volunteer drivers

Stephen Palmer Senior Center

In 1974 the urgent need for a larger, affordable space led to an initial request to the town of Needham for space in the newly planned Stephen Palmer apartment building. Five years later, on October 2, 1979, the Stephen Palmer Senior Center officially opened its doors in the building's basement with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house attended by 350 people.

With this space came the recognition of greater service responsibilities of the department. The Town Meeting authorized expanding the two part-time Council on Aging staff positions to full time.

Establishment of Friends of the Needham Elderly

Five months later, the Friends of the Needham Elderly, Inc. (FONE) was established to assist the Council on Aging by raising or obtaining funds or property for various programs and activities offered, which were not being fully funded or supported by federal, state, or local government agencies.

National Accreditation

In the past 34 years we have continued to expand the variety of the social, recreational, educational, and service programs.

In 1999 the Needham Council on Aging's Senior Center was the first in Massachusetts and the 20th in the nation to achieve national accreditation through the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC), and is only one of a handful of Centers in the United States to have gone through the process three times completing the last reaccreditation in 2011.

During the 2004 process one of the suggestions made by NISC had to do with the continued pursuit of a new Center location that would be truly handicapped accessible and would provide space that was more supportive of the programs and services that the we offered.

Enthusiasm for Current & Future Efforts

The enthusiasm of the Council on Aging Board, Advisory Committee, staff, volunteers, FONE, participants, and supportive friends continues to help us achieve our goals and fulfill our mission so that we can meet the needs of Needham's growing population of residents over the age of 60 and their families.