It would be the last time Carmen and Hiram “the Rooster” Montalvo entered the dining room as royalty.
The married couple in their 70s, crowned last Valentine’s Day as Norris Square Senior Community Center’s “queen and king of love and friendship,” were finishing their yearlong responsibility and were ready Thursday to turn over their duties — visiting seniors in their homes and in hospitals, and leading fund-raising for the center — to the 2019 king and queen, Wilson Santiago and María Pacheco.
Pacheco, chosen by the center’s regulars, said this seemed like a “divine calling.”
“This is a responsibility that I love to have, because I’ve been given the gift of service,” said Pacheco, 65, who worked as a geriatric nurse for 17 years in Puerto Rico, New York City, and Philadelphia. Valentine’s Day is known in Spanish as el Día del Amor y la Amistad, or the Day of Love and Friendship, which is where the title of the royal couple comes from.
There are about 200 regulars at Norris Square, sometimes referred to as “the United Nations,” with members from such places as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru, and other Latin American and Caribbean countries.
At a morning party of dancing, raffles, and food, about 150 visitors dressed up in stylish hats, floor-length gowns, bright jewels, and dancing shoes, including Olga Iris Pérez, 75, who has been visiting Norris Square with her husband, Daniel, 86, for the last 15 years to play dominos and draw and paint.
Others, like Edgardo Meléndez, 59, said he comes to avoid being alone at home. “I come for the exercise, the volunteer work, and the understanding I find in all the friends I’ve made here," he said.
Bethzaida Butler López, director for the center, said it’s important to keep older people engaged and not isolated.
“They have so much to offer, and need to stay active in this stage of their lives,” Butler López said.
The Norris Square Senior Community Center, part of Catholic Social Services, opened in 1973, offering social programs and activities in both Spanish and English for the elderly in North Philadelphia.
Wearing a peekaboo fascinator, Inocencia Lugo, 77, said she cherishes the “girl-talk” she has with the other women about their daughters and grandkids.
“My mother-in-law used to come here, and now I keep that tradition,” Lugo said.