Sun City, Arizona was the first large-scale retirement community in the US when it opened in 1960. For the last 43 years it has been home to the cheerleading grannies of the Sun City Poms, a marching and performance group whose 28 members range in age from 58 to 89; they practise three times a week and appear at up to 50 events a year. US photographer Kendrick Brinson has been documenting Sun City since 2009, and describes it as a “joyful and uplifting” place to work. Towards the end of last year, as vaccines were bringing the Covid-19 pandemic under control, she wanted to know how the Poms were faring, and flew back to Arizona. On 11 December, the Poms marched in the Christmas in the Park holiday parade in Litchfield Park, only their third performance after the pandemic put community events on hold for 18 months. “We all worked hard on Zoom to be ready to perform when the lockdown was lifted,” says Kathy Villa, 65, the Poms’ marching director. “I might have teared up from seeing so many happy faces at once,” Brinson says.
Sharon Word (above, second from right) has been with the Poms for nine years. “What keeps you young?” she says. “Learning – never lose the child within your soul, and have a zest for life. The first time I came here, I thought: oh, this is like Girl Scouts’ camp! I’ll just keep going till I die.”
Some of the Poms managed to carry on meeting, in member Sherri Sharp’s backyard, when the pandemic put a stop to their regular practice sessions. Greta Paulsen, 73, said it “feels wonderful” to be able to march and perform together again.
Mary Zirbel, 80, is the longest-serving member of the Poms. After 21 years, she has no plans to quit. “I’ve got the energy,” she says. “I’ve got more energy than most people.” As the group’s majorette – a role she also filled at high school – Zirbel leads the marches and loves hearing the crowd’s reactions: “You girls go! Oh, I wish I had those legs! We love you.”
Members hold hands and pray (above) as they get ready for the 2021 Christmas parade in Litchfield Park, Arizona – their third performance back together after months of lockdowns kept them apart. President Peggy Parsons (right of centre pic), 80, says: ‘We’re like sisters now. I have osteoporosis and deteriorating disc disease, and the more exercise I get, the better.’