HITCHCOCK — Rodeo attendees older than 62 are special guests today at the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo.

Organizers will open their gates early at 10 a.m. for Senior Citizens Day, which will last until 2 p.m. Gates will open at 4 p.m. for additional fair and rodeo attendees.

The first thing seniors may appreciate is a reprieve from the usual rodeo crowds, said Parade Chairwoman Helen Mueller, who helped organize the day, in addition to Special Kids Day on Tuesday and Schools Day on Wednesday.

The highlight of the day is a dance competition with live music by the Sunshine Band, but there will also be Bingo games with prize drawings and a barbecue lunch, fair coordinator Melondy Bender said.

“It’s a way for us to show our seniors how much they mean to us,” she said.

Clearly, their efforts are appreciated.

While it’s not required to register to enjoy the day, nearly 600 people preregistered for the dance competition, Senior Day Chairwoman Betty Gillespie said.

That’s about 100 more people than preregistered in 2012, which she attributed to additional advertising efforts at area nursing homes and on the Internet.

“Seniors are looking for something to do,” Gillespie said. “This gives them an opportunity to come out. A lot of people are in old folks homes or go to centers during the daytime and are just forgotten about.”

Trophies will be handed out to the person with the best dance moves and the cutest dance couple, she said. And they shouldn’t worry about having tired feet because golf carts will give them rides to where their vehicles are parked at the end of the day, Gillespie said.

Kevin Yackly, founder of the SeniorShare Program of Galveston County and owner of Grand Prize Barbeque in Texas City, brought back the Senior Citizens Comfort Center for a second year.

Yackly worked the tent all weekend and said he will offer its services next weekend, too. Those services included free bottled water, cool damp towels to wipe off sweaty brows and shaded seating exclusively for “grandmas and grandpas.”

“When you come out to the fair, there’s no place to sit,” Yackly said. “This is a refuge. The population of seniors is getting bigger, not smaller. You don’t realize how many are out here and they don’t always realize when they’re being overcome by the sun.”

Helen and her husband Leslie took advantage of the comfort center as they ran errands on the fair grounds Saturday.

Leslie, a U.S. Army veteran who also is a member of the Galveston County Ranchers Association, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has to travel with an oxygen tank. He can’t walk for very long before he has to sit down, he said.

“We decided to take a break here to cool down,” he said. “I’d go inside the (Ed Pickett Memorial Hall) where it’s air-conditioned, but there’s nowhere to sit.”

Yackly actively recruited seniors from the steady stream of passers-by, pinning plastic sheriff’s badges to the shirts of their grandchildren.

He handed out 500 bottles of water Saturday and said about 100 people took him up on his offer to sit down.

“Some people get offended when you call them senior citizens,” he said. “But they should be proud.”

Contact reporter Whitney Hodgin at 409-683-5236 or whitney.hodgin@galvnews.com.

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