TRAVERSE CITY — Marie Mayor and Cookie Kalember took stock of their stuffed cloth bags before leaving the 18th annual Ideas for Life Senior Expo.
Both women had free items and information crammed inside their green Grand Traverse Ophthalmology Clinic totes. But Kalember and Mayor didn't hit every one of the more than 100 vendors and exhibitors at the Expo.
"I skipped the funeral home," joked the 78-year-old Kalember, of Traverse City. "I'm already signed up for them."
The friends were two of the 1,631 people who attended the annual event. Ericca "CC" Hovie, marketing chairperson for the Senior Expo, said that far exceeded any previous total.
"It's a record-breaking year," Hovie said, indicating the event had never topped 1,200 in any previous year. "It's exciting."
Kalember and Mayor said the third Wednesday in May is a great time to gather a lot of information in one place.
"You go home and you go through all the stuff," said Mayor, 76, of Suttons Bay. "It changes every year. Plus you always have friends that are unable to come, so you get stuff for them."
"We try not to take what we don't need," added Kalember, who was able to grab a free back scratcher that seemed to be a popular freebie at the Expo.
Besides, the information presented at the Expo was the most valuable. Kalember and Mayor said some of the subjects they were interested in included elder care law, applying for Medicare, physical therapy and progressive care facilities — when the time comes.
"Everything is in there," Mayor said, motioning toward the Howe Arena floor. "It saves you making phone calls about which facilities offer progressive care."
Hovie said there was a line of people outside the Civic Center building at 8:53 a.m. and the doors didn't open until 10 a.m. By noon, 1,200 people had passed through the doors.
"Right now it's even with what we had the whole event last year," Hovie said two hours into the five-hour event.
Hovie said a change in advertising may have played a factor in the attendance. The turnout could also be something out of the control of the organizers.
"We've been very lucky the last five to six years to have some great weather," she said. "It's a great day."
Hovie said the Expo's popularity may also have to do with the nature of the event itself.
"It's a social thing," she said. "You run into people you have not seen in years."
That's one of the reasons a vendor like Comfort Keepers keeps setting up a booth and is one of the major sponsors.
"It's a lot about the smiles," said Operations Manager Bethany Korbel. "It's seeing all the seniors. You see a lot of the same faces year after year."
Korbel was wearing an elaborate bonnet in keeping with the Kentucky Derby theme. Korbel was also handing out 500 long-stemmed roses in honor of the horse race that is "The Run for the Roses."
At noon Korbel had just a handful remaining.
"I'm almost out," she said.