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Retirees Find Companionship Through Speed Dating

Table set with a candle on top.
John Nguyen

A retirement community in Sioux Falls hosted a speed dating event for seniors in time for Valentine’s Day.

Touchmark at All Saints created this first-ever opportunity for residents and members outside the community to get to know each other.

Charlotte Cooper-Tracy is a resident at Touchmark. She’s been living alone in an apartment for some time and hesitated on participating.

“You know, I hadn't even decided whether I was going to do it or not…I knew very few people." Cooper-Tracy said. "In fact, some of them are members of my church and so I kind of knew who they were, but I was not really acquainted with anybody here.”

Cooper-Tracy sat down with 24 other seniors and waited for the event to start.

Ellen Kelly is the director of resident services and says the idea for senior speed dating was in the works for a few years.

“We tossed the idea around—is Touchmark at All Saints, is Sioux Falls really ready for an event like this?" Kelly said. "And this year we decided to go for it because we think we are ready and not only are we ready, it is truly a need that we see, and we want to give seniors whether they live here or there in the greater community the opportunity to engage this way and make these connections.”

Before seniors had a chance to talk to each other, staff showed a documentary film which follows a group of seniors ranging from 70 to 90 years of age on a similar dating venture.

Back of senior's head watching a film.
Credit John Nguyen
Seniors sit down to view the documentary, "The Age of Love" by Steven Loring before getting ready to speed date.

Cooper-Tracy says she resonated with the seniors in the documentary.

“I treasure my solitude and I don't think I've ever been lonesome," she said. "And now, I've lost both husbands, so I live alone, but I've never been lonesome. I treasure my solitude. And when I heard those people talking about how lonesome they are, I realized how fortunate I am that if I want company, there's company here and maybe better than when I was living alone in an apartment.”

Cooper-Tracy originally married her first husband in Mitchell and moved to a few places before moving back to South Dakota, closer to their families.

“My first husband had actually dated my sister before me and I had dated her husband," Cooper-Tracy said. "But in the process, we swapped, and she married her husband and they were married 50 years and I married my husband and he died earlier; we were not married 50 years. And then my second husband was somebody I had been to the first grade with—it was somebody I'd known all my life. We lived on neighboring farms and our siblings were similar ages. When we graduated from high school, we went our separate ways, but eventually we got back together and got married and he's the one that moved to California with me and moved back to South Dakota. But he didn't survive. And so now I'm by myself, but I never thought I was lonesome and maybe I still don't. It made me think though, that movie just made me think about it.”

The film ended and seniors had a chance to grab some drinks and get ready for the main event. Men were seated at one side, while the women rotated every five minutes. If they liked the conversation and wanted to talk to them again, they write down their information on a sheet and move on to the next table.

After a half hour, all the seniors had finished and turned in their filled-in sheet to a Touchmark staff member.

Cooper-Tracy enthusiastically turned her sheet in, even though she wasn’t looking for anything serious.

“I would certainly be willing to talk to any of them that wanted to talk to me, that's all his thing, she said. “Not because I'm looking for romance, but just I like male companionship and so I wouldn't, I wouldn't want to cross that off my list.”

Cooper-Tracy says she enjoyed the speed dating process and hopes for additional opportunities to get to know even more people.

“I have a lot of nieces and they just would love it if they could get me involved in some kind of internet dating or something,” she said. “I liked it, you know, I didn't know if I would. I wasn't sure, but it was fun, and I liked it and I met men that I thought were fine men and they're Midwesterners—that's appealing to me.”

She says now all that’s left is waiting for the men she matched with to call her.