Balloons, streamers and “Happy Retirement” banners colorfully decorated the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center Senior Center on Jan. 17, but the party’s honoree insisted she’s not really retiring

“I’m semi-retired,” clarifies Belle Soltz, the senior center’s site manager for the past 30 years.

“Thirty years ago I came to Phoenix a complete stranger looking for friends,” Soltz says. “I walked into the center and I lost my heart and soul to the center. It became my home away from home.”

So it’s no wonder that although Soltz, 85, is officially stepping out from behind her desk on Jan. 31, she will continue at the senior center as a “consultant.”

“We don’t want her staying in (her) apartment,” explains Sandy Reichsfeld, director of the senior center who has worked with Soltz for 10 years. “We want this to be her home away from home just like everybody else.”

About 90 people attended the “retirement” party, including Soltz’s daughter from California, son and daughter-in-law from Chicago, VOSJCC president Mark Shore, VOSJCC board member Andy Schwartz and four Maricopa County case managers.

“We turned away 16 people today because of the fire code, plus we don’t have the room,” Reichsfeld says.

Representatives from the Area Agency on Aging presented Soltz with a plaque proclaiming Jan. 17 as Belle Soltz Day. In 1982, Soltz was the first recipient of The Dr. R. Alice Drought Caring Spirit Award, a humanitarian award from the Area Agency on Aging.

“She’s made a lot of special friends here and everybody cares about her,” Reichsfeld says. “When somebody walks through the door here, Belle is the first smiling face that they see, and she touches the lives of every single person who walks through that door.”

Nancy Fordonski of Detroit, a Phoenix winter visitor, met Soltz 18 years ago when visiting the center for lunch with her husband Michael. She’s been in touch with Soltz ever since.

When in Phoenix, the Fordonskis visit the center nearly every day and keep in touch by phone the rest of the year. “We feel really like family,” Fordonski says. “On a day when we’re not in, I will call in the evening (to see) how it was.”

Soltz says her favorite part of working at the center was “mixing with the seniors (and) seeing Sandy every day.”

Says Reichsfeld of Soltz: “She is my idol. She gave me a different perspective on seniors when I came here.”

This article first appeared in the Jan. 24, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.