More than just a face, Shirley Keller is the voice of the senior center, too

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Shirley Keller, receptionist at the Carson Senior Center works behind the front desk Wednesday afternoon.

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Shirley Keller, receptionist at the Carson Senior Center works behind the front desk Wednesday afternoon.

As dozens of visitors to the Carson City Senior Citizens Center make their way through the double doors, the first person they usually encounter is Shirley Keller.

Keller is the receptionist at the center, replacing Dee Johnson who retired in September.

With the trademark Dorothy Hamill-style haircut, albeit blonde, Keller helps anyone seeking information on senior services, activities at the center, location of the restrooms and what's being served for lunch.

"When I first started, I tried to learn a certain number of names a day so I could greet the people by name as they came in," Keller said. "It's nice, and it makes them feel special.

"As time goes on, I'm getting to know more of them."

With nearly an equal number of phone calls as visitors coming into the center, Keller's unmistakable voice is soft and sweet, yet raspy like a seasoned lounge singer.

Prior to becoming the center's receptionist, Keller, 72, was an intake and referral specialist for Friends in Service Helping for 14 years. There, she interviewed clients and referred them to various organizations for services.

"I still do mostly referrals, but in a senior aspect," she said. "And time goes by faster when you're busy."

Keller's "rush hour" is from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The center's dining room serves more than 120 congregate meals a day, and Keller sees nearly all of the people as they walk by.

"I was made to feel very welcome when I came here," she said. "Everyone has been friendly."

Keller has been married to husband, Larry, for 45 years. They have lived in Carson City 16 years, coming from Simi Valley, Calif. Shirley retired from Rockwell International, where she was an administrative assistant for nearly 25 years.

"I found out I knew George Brott (advisory council member and instructor of the Singing Seniors) from Rockwell," Keller said.

The Kellers have two sons, Scott in Carson City and Mike in Simi Valley; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They attend school sports activities for two of their grandchildren.

"Our granddaughter, Nikki, plays volleyball and softball at Carson High School, and our grandson, Max, plays baseball and basketball at Eagle Valley Middle School. It's fun and keeps us busy."

Keller said the people at the senior center are at the "wonderful" level. She gives credit to the many volunteers for making her work bearable and enjoyable, and for Barbara Tonge, administrative assistant, for being a big help, also.

"This is a job you can't come in to work in a bad mood," she said. "It's hard to do."

If she wasn't sitting at the reception desk helping others, Keller knows exactly what she'd be doing.

"If I weren't working, I would be out line dancing. It looks like so much fun and I love the music."

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.

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