NEGAUNEE - Christine Haines stopped by the Negaunee Senior Center one afternoon for a flu shot. When she didn't return to the car after a period of time, her husband, Mike, went in looking for her.
"While I was there, I saw they were having a painting class and it looked like fun," Mrs. Haines said. "So I signed up. And I signed my husband up, too. That's why I was taking so long."
That was in 2008 and the Haineses have been attending Roger Junak's painting class at the Negaunee Senior Center ever since.
Instructor Roger Junak, left, works with Tom Neznanski, who is painting a duck decoy he carved at the Negaunee Senior Center. “I need guidance,” Neznanski quipped. “I am learning how to use the brush but also how to mix the colors properly. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"I had taken two painting classes years ago when we lived in the eastern Upper Peninsula," Mrs. Haines said. "Those were quick brush classes and were just for one day. This is something I have wanted to do."
The class at the Negaunee center has been offered for almost 30 years, said Junak, who lives in Greenwood Location east of Ishpeming.
"There are about 15 in the class and the main thing about the group is that they are here for a variety of reasons," Junak said. "Marvin over there takes a woodcarving class and he paints the things he makes in class. Others do paintings for their homes or for their families.
"We do mostly acrylic or oil paintings," he said. "There is a wide variety of skills, but it's a tight-knit group. They really care about each other."
Marvin - Marvin Toivinen, that is - is one of the newer pupils.
"I take woodcarving class and then bring the stuff here to do the painting," he explained.
"He has to," Marvin's wife, Pauline, said. "I told him he had to start painting them for himself instead of having me do it."
Mrs. Toivinen, who was working on a beach-scene painting, said she thoroughly enjoys the sessions.
"Roger is a darn good teacher," she said, adding with a smile, "It's a class of love."
Junak was a bit shy about accepting the accolade.
"They do try to embarrass me," he said of the seniors in the class. "There's no holds barred from them. I haven't totally gotten used to that."
Mike Haines said the class had benefits in addition to developing painting skills.
"It's almost like counseling," he said. "I always feel better when I leave then when I arrived."
Junak chuckled at that, offering this wry assessment: "The first hour is medical updates. There can be some interesting information dispensed.
"Then at 2 p.m. it's coffee break and people bring in goodies," he said. "Then there's the recipe exchange."
All kidding aside, the students do learn painting techniques amidst the camaraderie. Junak goes from student to student, answering questions and demonstrating method.
"I've been in the class six years and I am still trying to learn," Mrs. Toivinen said.
Carol Carlson is the longest attending member.
"I am the only one of the original Negaunee class," she said. "That started in 1983 and I am still coming. It's just so enjoyable."
Junak has been teaching painting since 1970, for many years through local community school programs. When budget cuts hit, he wanted to continue.
"So we combined groups with Ishpeming and Negaunee people and kept going," he said. "The center wasn't even here then. It was in a small building up by the Vista (theater) back then. But we have kept it going."
The painting class at the Negaunee Senior Center meets in eight-week blocks.
For more information on it, or any of the many other activities at the center, call 475-6266.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.