Merced County Times Newspaper
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Seniors share friendship, safe walks inside Mall


A close-knit — and quite frankly — inspirational trio of Merced ladies are determined to stay active in retirement, and fill their days with joy and friendship.

For the past four years, Brenda Feehan, Jean Smith and Virginia Buettgenbach have been gathering regularly to get out, exercise and embrace life. But they have had to go through a number of phases to figure out what works for them.

Once upon a time, they were able to walk around their homes and neighborhoods, as well as nearby areas, such as paths along Bear Creek. However, in recent times, the quality of the sidewalks and walkways have severely deteriorated, and the crime rate has been steadily increasing. This, along with a number of other factors, led them to feel increasingly uncomfortable wandering the streets of Merced.

As a way to deal with their growing concern for safety, mixed with the regularly off-putting weather of the area, these ladies began getting their exercise inside the Merced Mall. At first you may wonder how much walking these ladies can do along the storefronts and remodeling that is going on inside the shopping center. Surprisingly, they average 2 miles each outing, making six trips up and down the Mall grounds. Over the course of developing this routine, they ran into a number of other Mercedians who do the same thing. And not to mention, the Mall staff.

“It is just a great place to walk in,” Feehan told the Times. “It is flat, safe, and dry. There’s music and we have met so many nice people. We’re sometimes known as the ‘Lost Ladies of Merced’ because people just see us walking in circles at the Mall. It’s fun getting together with friends. We’ve been friends for a long, long time, and they are wonderful; I am very lucky.”

These ladies all first met here in Merced more than 40 years ago through Saint Patrick’s Church and have remained close ever since.

Of the myriad benefits and fun experiences the group gets out of their daily walks, their favorite part is the companionship and many others they have met along the way. They relayed to the Times how fun it is to see other groups who also make the same use of the space.

“The nice thing about it is that you know you have good friends. And we are. We are a support to each other,” Smith said.

As a group, they had this to say to the elderly community of Merced: “Just keep moving. The first couple of times it is painful, but it gets to be joyful after a while. You can tell the difference in how you feel, how you look, and you learn great stories from the people you meet.”

If you have ever held yourself from going out and about because of similar concerns of comfort or safety, consider following the lead of these ladies by visiting the Merced Mall and making use of the space for more than shopping.

Feehan, Smith and Buettgenbach always finish their walk with a trip to the nearby Panera Bread, where employees know the trio so well that they came up with a name for them: “The Three Musketeers.”

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