The year before Sydney Stagg's husband died, he looked forward to visits from his "senior companion." The woman kept him company while his wife rested. She added color and texture to what otherwise could be a dreary day.

"She was wonderful," Stagg remembers. "And after he died, I decided that was something I could do."For more than a decade since her husband's death, Stagg has been a companion to other senior citizens who are more limited in their ability to get around than she is. She's been a companion to as many as four people a week, some of them for 10 years. And nothing slows her down.

The Senior Companion program is operated by Salt Lake County Aging Services. Right now, about 86 healthy volunteers, age 60 and older, provide company to more than 250 homebound, frail senior citizens. The volunteers provide companionship and varying degrees of assistance with daily living tasks, five days a week. Some of them visit the same people several times, others are companions to several people.

Salt Lake County Aging Services companion volunteers are not paid for their time, but they are reimbursed so it doesn't cost them to volunteer. And they all must meet income guidelines. There are no income restrictions for those who need a volunteer.

At 84, Stagg is older than some of the people with whom she visits. But she's spry, driving them to appointments and shopping, helping them with dishes and - the most common part of her job - just listening as they talk about their lives, families and memories.

"I'm a good listener," she shrugs. "It's something I can do."

A recent Wednesday found Stagg washing dishes for Gladys Curtis, also an octogenarian, with whom she has been paired in the program for eight months.

Curtis jokes that she got into the program because she was "curious. I wondered what I could give or how much I can take."

The answer, she has found, is plenty. "Syd is good company. I really like having her around."

Curtis has two sons; one lives in Price and one in Miami. Her other "child" is a soft, long-haired gray-and-white cat named "Woolly." He's her dearest companion and she calls him spoiled. But pets aren't quite the same as people, she asserts. "He's a lot of company and doesn't talk back, though."

Her husband retired from a job as a union negotiator at Kennecott, where he represented steelworkers. She's now widowed and has seen her world get narrower. She no longer drives. She has some medical problems that keep her from going out much.

That doesn't keep her home if the weather's nice and Stagg's willing to take her somewhere, like La Frontera for Mexican food, her favorite activity. Sometimes they go shopping, although just as often Stagg does the shopping for her. Stagg also helps her pay bills, sort mail and perform other tasks.

Volunteering has kept Stagg active, she says. She was a registered nurse until she retired, so she's used to taking care of people. "It lets me forget myself." And she's been blessed with extraordinarily good health - "I take plenty of vitamins and no medicine" - that she can share with others.

The two women have more than their age in common: Both have lived for decades in Salt Lake, both are widowed, both have small families that are somewhat scattered. And both recognize that loneliness can plague a senior citizen. Most of all, they have come to need each other.

So at one house, Stagg puts away groceries and does a bit of yard work. At another, she sorts bills and writes out checks. And wherever she goes, she listens.

That is, after all, what a good companion does.

For information about the Senior Companion Program, call 468-2867.