Men’s Association caters to mind, body, and soul
Feel like hiking in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation? What about spending the day exploring the Hudson Yards and Chelsea?
Want to attend an interactive talk on the attractions in Italy, join a singing group and entertain people, or debate a point in a discussion on investments?
Those are all activities in the Darien Men’s Association (DMA). Founded in 1977, the DMA is a nonprofit organization for men age 50 and older. It meets weekly from September to the end of May at the Darien Community Association.
Sunil Saksena, association president, calls the DMA a “hidden gem of Darien.”
“It deserves to be known by people who might benefit from it,” he added.
The DMA is 300 members strong and growing, according to Charles Salmans, head of communications. Members live in Darien and surrounding communities.
The association is mainly made up of retired people who had professional careers such as in finance, marketing, law, and medicine. Many are still active members of their community and serve on boards and commissions in town. The oldest member just celebrated his 100th birthday.
There are dozens of groups within the association, which accommodates a wide variety of interests. There is a group on current affairs, hiking, exploring New York City, singing, woodworking, and much more.
Annual dues of $75 go toward rental of the room where the association members gather, and snacks served during weekly meetings.
“We cater to the mind, body and soul,” said Salmans, a father of three and grandfather of two. Prior to retiring, Salmans worked in the public relations field. Saksena was a banker.
Happy Wanderers is a group that wanders through various neighborhoods in New York City.
Salmans spoke about a 95-year-old member who has an in-depth knowledge of Manhattan neighborhoods. The man had led the Happy Wanderers group for 15 years.
“He stood up at one of our meetings and said, ‘We’re going to visit the square in Manhattan where 11 streets converge.’ And without notes, he named all 11 streets. I can’t even remember the name of the square,” Salmans joked.
“He would go through the streets of New York like a rocket,” Saksena said.
He added that those trips, even though one might have worked in an area their entire career, are “entirely different” after retirement.
“We work in Manhattan all our lives but we never know Manhattan,” said Saksena, a father of two grown sons. “We just come and go.”
He referenced a trip to Manhattan many years ago with the DMA that he said he’ll always remember.
“There were 18 of us on a crisp April morning, wandering downtown. I was walking on the sidewalk and there was a coffee shop and the sun was out, and there was this guy with his coffee sitting on a stool on the sidewalk. Seeing 18 old men coming down the street, he said, ‘What are you guys doing? Cutting classes today?’ We all cracked up,” Saksena chuckled.
The DMA hiking group organizes hikes within a 30-minute drive of Darien. There are easy, moderate and difficult hikes.
“The organizer of the hikes went on each of them a few times before he put them on the agenda, to see how they should be rated,” Saksena said.
The association has a backlog of speakers who want to talk to the group, according to Saksena.
All the speakers are volunteers who “have a lot of knowledge to share,” Saksena said. “They want to spread that knowledge and we have an intelligent group of people who are very engaged.”
Saksena calls the speakers the “highlight of the week.”
“The quality of the speakers and the content of what they will talk about is what draws members in,” he said, adding there is a “very active” question and answer session at the end of each talk.
Current affairs, community service
Men come to the current affairs group after they have done their homework, according to Saksena.
“We circulate papers at the meeting a month in advance” so members are well prepared to engage in the discussion, he added.
In addition, the DMA participates in the town’s annual cleanup.
The cleanup “might be at the Darien or Noroton Heights train station,” Saksena said.
The association also puts up the Christmas wreaths in town.
Norman Wakeman, Salmans’ father-in-law, was one of the DMA’s first members.
“There was a longtime pastor of the Noroton Presbyterian Church by the name of Pete Horton,” Salmans said.
Horton began counseling men who had recently retired from an active life as a commuter.
“They didn’t have a lot of social connections here in Darien,” Salmans said. “They had been so tied up in their work”
The men were “in a minor psychological crisis, having to decompress after a very active, executive career, often in New York. Their wives had made social connections here in Darien, but they didn’t really have them to the same extent,” he added.
So, Horton thought of creating a men’s club and a way for the newly retired to engage with one another. The DMA, which originally they met at the Darien YMCA, “proved to be a very popular,” Salmans said.
According to Salmans, the younger members of the association are often inspired by the older ones.
“When you’re 74 like I am, you have a new idol, which is somebody who is 96,” he said.
The goal of the DMA is “to keep the seniors engaged and active, and introduce activities that are in demand,” Saksena said. “We have a lot of jokes. It’s really a nice place to be. We are a very welcoming group.”
For more information, visit dariendma.org.