By Conrad Dudderar
“I want this to be a place that’s full of life,” Thomas Buckley said this week. “I want this to be a place where it’s family.”
A longtime minister, Buckley is the new manager at the Dale Robertson Center.
“I don’t have a background in senior centers, but I love people. And I love building relationships with people,” he said.
The City of Yukon’s Dale Robertson Center, 1200 Lakeshore, offers an activity-filled program for people ages 55 years and above.
Buckley has a suggestion box for DRC members to share ideas on ways to improve operations.
“This is their center,” he pointed out.
Regular hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Nutritious meals are offered daily – starting with dessert at 11:15 a.m. and then lunch service at 11:45 a.m.
“We have 130 chairs in the room right now, and I want to see more people,” Buckley said. “I want to see this place ‘hoppin’. I want it to be a destination for seniors.
“How many other people are in our city who – for whatever reason – are staying at home alone?”
An accessible transportation service is offered to seniors who need a ride to the center. A $2 lunch donation is suggested; but nobody is turned away if they can’t pay.
During his first two weeks on the job, Buckley has noticed great interest in the center’s fitness classes.
“It’s not necessarily that they want to learn Tai Chi,” he shared. “It’s because they’re doing it together.
“I want to be a part of that. I love having one of my old pastors in the room and being able to serve him.”
A California native, Buckley moved with his family to Oklahoma in 1991 when he was a teenager.
This is Buckley’s 31st year of ministry.
“I started when I was 15, leading worship at a small Assembly of God church in Del City,” he said. “It’s just taken off from there.”
Yukon has been home to Buckley and wife April since 2002.
He previously planted a church in Yukon but now attends Victory Church in Warr Acres.
Known to many as “Pastor T”, Buckley served several years as president of the Yukon Ministerial Alliance and was a member of Compassionate Hands’ board of directors.
He became a traveling evangelist, but that changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
During the past few years, Buckley worked at a large Yukon retail store – moving up the ranks to assistant manager. There, he became known as “Mr. T.”
Buckley admits the manager position at the Dale Robertson Center “wasn’t on my radar.” But he was ready for a new challenge after working in high-volume retail for a “big box” company.
“This is ministry – as well as relationship,” Buckley said. “I’ve always tried to find a place where I could develop relationships.
“It’s family here.”
Buckley believes strongly in forming connections with people of all cultures, ages and denominations. He was that way leading the Yukon Ministerial Alliance, and this continues at the Dale Robertson Center.
“We don’t sit in tables by church, by demographic or anything like that,” he added. “We’re just all together.
“What really excites me is being able to put smiles on people’s faces and joke with them. They’re coming here because it’s full of life.”
When Buckley was about 20, his pastor allowed him to preach a sermon to the church congregation one Sunday night.
“He helped me and served me and gave me an opportunity to get my start – and get that first sermon under my belt,” he shared. “All these years later, now I get to serve him.”
Accepting the DRC manager post in the Yukon Parks & Recreation department was “probably the easiest ‘yes’ that I’ve ever made, after praying for it.”
“Manager T” has an open-door policy at the Dale Robertson Center, where his new office looks out upon Yukon seniors participating in a myriad of activities.
Yukon Parks & Recreation is much more than the title suggests, he pointed out.
“All of us are centered on relationships and families,” Buckley said. “How do we touch people in our community? How do we become the place where people from El Reno, and Warr Acres, and Mustang, and Piedmont come?
“Not just because we have Walmart, Target and Academy. But because we have great parks and programs. This is becoming a destination. I want to capitalize on that and make it better.”