Denise Niese.

When the new Wood County Senior Center was designed, Denise Niese said it would have an open concept — for its clients, but also for her.

The executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging is known to pop out of her office to chat with seniors. Niese’s office is also known for its door never being locked — or even closed — to welcome visitors anytime.

Her dedication, along with her administrative skills, which include securing a $1.6 million grant for the new Bowling Green building, are being honored nationally.

Niese has been selected as a National Council on Aging 2021 Trailblazers in Aging Award honoree. She received the National Institute of Senior Centers Delegate Council’s Founders Award, which recognizes exemplary and long-standing service to the senior center field.

Niese received a standing ovation from the Wood County Committee on Aging board at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We are very impressed and appreciate all that you do,” said board President Eric Myers. “It’s quite an award for her and quite an award for us.”

Niese is celebrating 20 years with the committee on aging on Sunday. She has been executive director since Jan. 1, 2005.

One of her biggest accomplishments was getting a $1.6 million State of Ohio capital grant to build the new senior center, which has a ribbon cutting on June 17.

Niese said she asked for $500,000.

She recalled meeting with state legislators in summer 2017 and laying out the plan to a Toledo Chamber of Commerce board, which was recommending funding.

In February 2018, Randy Gardner, former Ohio senator, personally called Niese to let her know about the $1.6 million that was going to be awarded.

Niese is past president of the Ohio Association of Senior Centers and served as treasurer for the NISC.

The national awards honor three people and three organizations from across the country that worked throughout the pandemic to ensure the health and financial security of older Americans. The virtual conference was held this week.

For all of her administrative success and service, she is most known for her listening skills, not pushing paper. Niese said she treasures talking with clients over lunch or while they are playing bingo or exercising at the senior center.

“It’s the seniors that give me purpose,” she said.