Our thanks to photographer Mark
Kresl for creating these images
Mike Simmonds was a one-of-kind man who gave back generously with time, talent and treasure to improve the lives in the community he loved.
Please join us at Embassy Suites La Vista to TOAST Mike Simmonds and celebrate the legacy he left us.
p.s. There will be laughter!
John Knicely recently saw a Merrymakers performance by Johnny Ray Gomez while visiting with his parents in a senior facility. He was impressed, and thought we’d make a great segment for his “Knicely Done” series which airs during the newscast on WOWT.
We were more than happy to oblige he and Roger Hamer when asked to provide a special performance.
The subsequent segment was a great snapshot of the great work Merrymakers achieve thousands of times each year. Stay tuned, and thanks for your support.
Click this link to see the video: http://bit.ly/1IurzpA
Merrymakers Performer of the Year
Merrymakers is proud to work with a talented stable of 22 entertainers who travel throughout Nebraska and Western Iowa to serve our senior population.
One is the most recent recipient of the Jim Johnson Entertainer of the year Award, Kim Eames, who has been with Merrymakers for the last nine and a half years. She was discovered by our most veteran entertainer Joe Taylor. It seems Kim’s husband suggested that Joe listen to his wife perform, and Joe was instantly sold on Kim’s work, and eventually got her the audition that brought her on board with Merrymakers.
She recalls her first promo photo with Merrymakers was taken at the Gretna Community Center together with a woman called Goldie, who was about to turn 100. “I asked her when her birthday was, and she told me it was August 23rd. We shared a birthday, and I thought ‘it was meant to be’- a great start singing with the seniors.
She is an energetic and a positive performer who has a large range of musical styles she can bring to any given show. She can easily tailor any set to the audience she meets. “There was one performance that included a daycare, so I even wound up singing “The Wheels On The Bus” for the very youngest members of the audience,” she said.
“If I’m in an age group like mine I play The Eagles, Linda Rondstat, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, or Dan Fogelberg. I like all different kinds of things”.
Kim makes entertaining look effortless and easy. It might be due to a non-stop smile, her high-energy performance style, or maybe it’s just due to the 40 years of performing experience she has.
She picked up guitar at age 11, and started playing the 12-string guitar, her signature instrument, at age 12. At 14 (yes, 14!), she started her professional career playing with a group called the Royal Blues Band. They played mainly private parties and wedding receptions she recalls, playing polkas, Carpenters songs and “pretty middle of the road stuff” as she described it.
She sees her work with Merrymakers as more than a one-way street. She gets as much from her audience as much as she gives.
“The stories I hear from seniors move me. I’m supposed to be moving them, but when I get stories from them that move me…” She paused and went on, “Several gentlemen (WWII vets) have told me that when I do “Sentimental Journey”- that they heard it as they were getting off the ship to come home and they tear up. It takes them to a moment that’s unforgettable for them. They recall it so clearly that when they tell you- you’re there. It’s like watching a movie.”
Kim also appreciates what she brings to her audience. “Normally they enjoy the music so much. It really is therapeutic. If they came in sad, I’m hoping they leave happy.”
She also comes to her performances with a healthy sense of perspective. To Kim, the audience is not just a roomful of seniors. The audience is made up of people who all have stories, and family and history. She recalled two people she has met that illustrate this idea: “You meet so many interesting people with Merrymakers. I met the guy who played trumpet for Dinah Shore at one show.” She paused and reflected, “We look at these people and I realize we’re all going to be in a seat like that some day and I’m going to say to someone ‘I used to sing once’. Are they going to believe me, or do they care? But this had made me look at it totally differently.”
She also tells the story of a 104-year-old senior in Plattsmouth who came here after spending most of her days in Hawaii to live near her last surviving nephew. She used to dance for Bob Hope and went out on his USO tours.
40 years of entertaining has it’s full measure of stories, like having Bob Hope walk in on her performance when she played Harry’s Pub in the Hilton, or breaking bread with Tom Jones at the next table at Maxims, or playing in front of stars.
One of her biggest celebrity moments happened when she performed at Peony Park when she was a senior in high school. She recalled that at the time she was doing poorly in government class, and it turned out to be a rally for future president Jimmy Carter. “Here I was singing for Jimmy Carter and I could care less about government at that time. I shook his hand and met his wife, and at the moment I didn’t even know it.”
Kim continues to perform with a high level of energy which escapes no one. “A man asked me where it comes from,” she said. “It’s a gift from God. I know it’s a gift from God. I thank him every day, and it’s my job to take care of it. Hopefully I do that well.”
We are thankful that she does.
Linda Kellar seemed too young for dementia, the slow-forming disease that erodes the memories of people usually much older than the then-54-year-old housewife.
But in 2009 that’s what doctors found to be the cause of Kellar’s severe agitation, memory loss, sleepless nights, babbling and hallucinations.
Kellar now spends her days at Keswick Multi-Care Center under constant care because of the disease, which has progressed steadily since the diagnosis. Her husband, Arnold, knows that dementia will eventually take his wife’s life. His only hope is to make her last years as comfortable as possible.
That’s why Kellar is found sometimes pacing her room wearing headphones, listening to the Beatles and other music of her generation. She is one of five patients at the assisted-living home using music therapy to help with symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The hope is to eventually use the technique for all 272 patients at Keswick.
While it won’t restore the memories of patients, listening to melodies throughout the day can help them to cope better.
“I know it’s not going to cure her, but if it has the chance of making her life a little better, I thought it couldn’t hurt,” Arnold Kellar said. “You want somebody to have a certain quality of life.”
Studies have found that music can tap into dormant memories, reminding people of good times in their life. That in turn can calm patients and reduce anxiety. Energetic music may provide an emotional boost and make despondent patients more social.
Listening to music may also release endorphins that help with pain, stress and depression, according to dementia.org.
And the familiarity of the music may make elderly people feel more secure, according to the American Music Therapy Association Inc.
“Because dementia patients lose new memories, everything seems like a new experience, which can cause anxiety.” said Dr. Daljeet Saluja, the medical director at Keswick. “Every time they see someone, it’s like meeting someone new.”
Music therapy has recently become popular in senior homes and other medical facilities, where it is also used to treat depression, autism, stroke and other brain conditions.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords learned how to talk again partly with the help of music therapy. Giffords couldn’t speak because language pathways in the left part of her brain were damaged. Her music therapist told ABC’s “Nightline” that by layering words on top of melody and rhythm, she trained her brain to use a less-traveled pathway to the same destination.
Jane Haynes, a registered nurse and director of education and staff development at Keswick, decided to bring music therapy to the North Baltimore facility after learning about it at a conference. She watched the video of a New York man so dispirited that he wouldn’t even communicate with his daughter. After listening to Cab Calloway, the elderly man’s whole demeanor changed, Haynes said. When asked questions after listening, he was much more engaged.
Keswick has tested the concept of music therapy on a handful of patients for six weeks and found success. One man was able to stop taking sleep aids because the music helped calm him and his nights have become less restless.
“We have seen improvements in most all of them to some degree,” Haynes said.
Doctors realize music therapy won’t work for everyone. Haynes said one patient at Keswick wouldn’t wear the headphones.
Seniors group AARP said its best to use music that is familiar to people. Most people remember tunes from childhood or their 20s, they said.
“What moves me may not move you,” Haynes said.
The music can be used to help seniors with activities, such as getting dressed in the morning or as they are readying for bed at night, AARP said.
Keswick has patients listening to the music through headphones to help block out outside distractions. It’s also more personal, Haynes said. Music therapy has also worked using radio, record and CD players, and other methods.
“We hope this will eventually help all of the residents of Keswick,” Haynes said.
In the first study of its kind, two researchers have used popular music to help severely brain-injured patients recall personal memories. Amee Baird and Séverine Samson outline the results and conclusions of their pioneering research in the recent issue of the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.
Although their study covered a small number of cases, it’s the very first to examine ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ (MEAMs) in patients with acquired brain injuries (ABIs), rather than those who are healthy or suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease.
In their study, Baird and Samson played extracts from ‘Billboard Hot 100’ number-one songs in random order to five patients. The songs, taken from the whole of the patient’s lifespan from age five, were also played to five control subjects with no brain injury. All were asked to record how familiar they were with a given song, whether they liked it, and what memories it invoked……
A. Baird, S. Samson. Music evoked autobiographical memory after severe acquired brain injury: Preliminary findings from a case series. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/09602011.2013.858642