At the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud, there's always a room reserved for bridge players. On Fridays, that room is packed with die-hard players. One of them, Alice Lauer, said the St. Cloud Times played a key role in their card games.
"They always had a hand in the paper and we like to find out how we would have bid that hand according to what they bid," said Alice Lauer. "That was interest of it. All of us bridge players were following that bridge game every day."
Marcey Powers jumps in: "And we learned by seeing how they play a hand by reading it in the paper."
Now that bridge column only exists online. John Bodette, the executive editor of the St. Cloud Times, said the tough economy forced him to cut back on staff, and also certain sections of the paper.
"The highest priority I had was to retaining space for local news--local news and information," said Bodette. "In evaluating some of the other things that are in the paper, I was trying to do it for where could people go to other places to get that information."
Bodette said he's gotten the most reaction for cutting the bridge column with a steady stream of phone calls, letters, emails, and even a petition with 50 signatures. Bodette said bridge players, who recognize him when he's out in the community, tell him how much they miss the column. He said he takes these concerns very seriously, which is why he offered to make it accessible online.
But that hasn't appeased the die-hard players, some of whom threatened to cancel their subscription to the newspaper. Joe Lisbon is one of the loyal players. Whenever he has Fridays off work, he's definitely playing bridge at the Whitney Senior Center.
"Actually, I was going to drop the paper over the bridge column," said Lisbon. "And because they're putting it online I chose not to, but quite honestly, I've only gone online and looked at it one time because I like to take the paper to work with me and then read it on my breaks, and so that's when I miss it."
And now that the St. Cloud Times has put the column online, the technology is intimidating for some seniors.
"He [Bodette] offered to put it on the television, you know, the internet... What do you call that thing?" said Joan Jacobson.
"A lot of the older players don't go to the internet, I don't think," said Kory Solarz, one of the bridge players who helped put together the petition.
"I wouldn't like to plug into the internet every day either. They [the seniors] would like to get it back. They'd do anything they could to try to influence the Times to put it back in."
The game of bridge is near and dear to the hearts of seniors for many reasons. Chief among them is that it's intellectually stimulating, as these seniors will tell you. "We're very much afraid as we get terrifically older that maybe our brains have left," said Jacobson.
"It makes you think," said Powers.
"Yeah, you gotta keep your brain going at this age, or else you're in big trouble," said Donna Repulski.
"It's good for the brain," echoes Irene Klein.
To Powers, there's more. She said the game is also an opportunity for seniors to get out of the house and socialize.
"See, I'm a widow, and now my husband passed away in April, I volunteer at the hospitals in the mornings and then three afternoons, I play bridge," said Powers.
The executive editor of the St. Cloud Times said when the economy turns around, he'll strongly consider putting the bridge column back in the newspaper. Until that happens, seniors in St. Cloud will have to rely on the online version, and their games at the Whitney Senior Center.