Saturday, Apr 04, 2009
Play it again
By Chris Dunker, Beatrice Daily Sun staff writer
Karl Hansen didn’t get the chance to take part in many social events in high school.
The Kensington resident said as a child his family lived so far out of town that the high school prom wasn’t feasible.
He still loved music and dancing, though.
“When I was young I used to go to the Pla Mor Ballroom,” Hansen said. “They had loud music, they had everything.”
Though he may have missed his high school prom, Hansen made up for that fact Friday at the First Annual Senior Citizen Prom sponsored by the Merrymakers at the Holiday Inn Express Conference Center.
The Senior Citizen Prom, an event which has been gaining popularity across Nebraska, gave the residents of several local retirement communities a chance to get dressed up and have an afternoon full of fun and memories.
Live music was provided by the Merrymakers, a talent group from Omaha that specializes in playing for nursing homes.
Executive director Cindy Copich said that the goal of the prom was for everyone over the age of 55 to come out and have a good time.
“We just want people to come out and have fun,” Copich said.
Merrymakers brought four entertainers to the event, singer/accordion player Johnny Ray Gomez, singer Joyce Torchia, singer/guitar player Terry Edwards and musician/singer Charlie Glasgow, The Chaz Singer.
“It’s more than just getting them up and dancing,” Gomez said. “We try to touch their hearts and their memories.”
Edwards entertained the crowd with his impersonations of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Richard Nixon and Kermit the Frog.
Torchia brought the room to a wild applause with her rendition of “God Bless America” during a three song salute to veterans and families.
The Chaz Singer rounded out the group, playing on the guitar or drum set, in addition to performing the Neil Diamond number “America.”
The afternoon was capped off when the prom king and queen were announced. Irene Kracke of Samaritan Springs and Kenny Drake of Beatrice Manor were honored with the crowns.
Hansen said that the Senior Citizen Prom was a good way to get back all those years that he missed out on high school proms and social events.
“I’m making up for it now,” he said.
Published: Thursday, February 19, 2009
Musicians to ‘make merry’ on March 3
The North Platte Telegraph
By Mark Young
Linden Estates will be the host site of a sneak preview show of the Merrymakers, an Omaha non-profit entertainment group, on March 3.
The show will offer a taste of what will come March 29 at the Sandhills Convention Center.
According to Kathy Brown, public relations coordinator for Linden Estates, the Merrymakers specialize in entertaining senior citizens and the March 3 sneak preview will be free to Linden Estates residents, as well as any other senior living in assisted living facilities.
Vetters Health Services is the co-sponsor of the event, but since the Merrymakers is a non-profit organization, the show relies on business sponsorship. Brown said business sponsorship includes a variety of packages.
“The King and Queen sponsorship is $1,000 donation and with that you get advertising on our fliers, as well as a live mention during the show,” she said. “Prince and Princess sponsorship is $500 and gets a lot of the same perks. Royal Court is a $250 sponsorship and we have a Friends of Merrymakers $100 sponsorship available.”
The Merrymakers were founded in 1986, with a mission to bring premier entertainment to the elderly. With limited budgets to bring in this kind of quality entertainment, Merrymakers offers their high-profile musicians to nursing facilities, but those facilities rely on community businesses to help defray the costs.
Last year, there were 86 different assisted living facilities whose residents saw the Merrymakers perform, primarily in the Omaha, Council Bluffs and Des Moines areas.
Among the performers scheduled to perform in North Platte is vocalist/guitarist Kim Eams. The Omaha native has been performing since she was 11 years old and did Chevrolet commercials for 16 years. She released her first CD in 2000. She’s been performing for 33 years and is quite fond of saying, “I look forward to the next 33 years.”
Johnny Ray Gomez has been a professional entertainer for 45 years and has performed at the premier showcases of Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno and has appeared on such television shows as “American Bandstand.”
Charlie Glasgow, better known as, “The Chaz Singer,” has worked with such groups as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Styx, the Classic Rock All-Stars, Ozark Mountain Daredevils and more. Glasgow does vocal impressions of such legendary figures as Johnny Cash, Elvis and Neil Diamond and is featured on lead vocals in the 2007 rockabilly cover of Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy.”
Teddy Grable brings back the classics of the doo-wop era and played with The Concords. He sings a blend of doo-wop and rhythm and blues. He’s performed in some of New York’s top entertainment lounges and opened for such classic headliners as The Flamingos and the Shangri-Las.
Brown said this is no everyday entertainment lineup.
“These are some wonderful musicians who perform with a great organization,” she said. “These performers are professional musicians and not everybody gets to play with the Merrymakers. They have to try out.”
The sneak peek performance at Linden Estates is March 3 at 3:30 p.m. and is free to seniors currently living in nursing homes. The March 29 performance is at the Sandhills Convention Center from 2-4:30 p.m. Tickets for senior couples are $5 or $2.50 for singles. Brown said the cost of the performance covers food and drink, which will be served. All seniors are welcome.
The show is already scheduled and business sponsorships are still needed. If your business would like to get involved with this unique opportunity to bring some joy to the area’s senior citizens, you are asked to call Cindy Copich at (402) 697-0205 for more details.
Brown said the show is also looking for dance partners who can volunteer their time to dance with those attending.
“We are in particular need of men,” said Brown.
Published January 15, 2009
Merrymakers: Sentimental journey
BEATRICE DAILY SUN
by Chris Dunker/Daily Sun staff writer
The sounds of Doris Day singing “Gonna take a sentimental journey,” couldn’t have rang more true at the Paddock Kensington Wednesday afternoon.
That sentimental journey took residents of the Kensington back to the days of Patsy Cline, Roger Miller, Dean Martin and Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
The afternoon of music was provided by Kim Eames of Merrymakers, a professional entertainment organization geared towards providing an enlightened afternoon for assisted care facilities across Nebraska and parts of Iowa.
Eames sang and played the guitar for the crowd who was gathered in the ballroom at the Kensington. A performer for 33 years, Eames brought back memories to the residents from the songs she sang.
Merrymakers, which is comprised of performers like Eames, is a non-profit organization that began in Omaha in 1986. When they began, executive director Cindy Copich said, Merrymakers’ 11 entertainers performed a variety of shows to 40 skilled care centers in the Omaha area. The area the Merrymakers travel to and perform has grown, they now perform at 91 skilled care facilities, Copich said.
The performers of Merrymakers specialize in a variety of entertainment. There are singers, guitarrists, accordianists, magicians and opera singers, to name a few.
“The hope is to be a national organization,” Copich said.
Currently, Merrymakers entertains skilled care facilities as far west as North Platte Nebraska and as far east as Des Moines, Iowa.
“The P.E.O. home approached us about Merrymakers because they had it,” Shirleen Wolfe, director of the Kensington said, “and the Merrymakers were looking to expand.”
In order to pay for the Merrymaker’s monthly visits, Wolfe said she approached several businesses in the community for a donation.
“We were looking for sponsors and I was scared to death about getting turned down, which we did,” Wolfe said.
When Wolfe asked Theresa Schramm, owner of Touch of Class, a local flowershop where Wolfe works part time, for donations to help bring the Merrymakers to the Kensington, Schramm agreed to foot the $1,500 bill.
Copich presented Schramm with a plaque Wednesday afternoon thanking her for helping brighten the day for Kensington residents.
Wolfe said the donation by Touch of Class was a “prayer answer.” To be able to pay for the Merrymakers to make a monthly visit to the Kensington was truly special she said.
“We took it one step farther after that and added door prizes and refreshments,” Wolfe said.
In addition to their monthly performances at local care facilities, the Merrymakers plan on holding a “Senior Prom,” Friday, April 3 at the Holiday Inn Express Convention Center from 2-4 p.m.
Copich said the Merrymakers’ hosted a “Senior Prom” in Omaha and it was a great success. To ensure the success of the event in Beatrice, donations and volunteers are needed.
“We had about 40 young-adults help us in Omaha and they had a great time,” Copich said, “but we can’t ask them all to come an hour and 45 minutes, so it would be nice to have some volunteers from the area.”
Those interested in donating or volunteering are asked to visit the Merrymakers’ Web site at www.merrymakers.org.
Published October 14, 2008
Merrymakers: Social opportunities for seniors
COUNCIL BLUFFS DAILY NONPAREIL
Lindsay Blake, Staff Writer
Although avid dancers in their younger years, Jim and Phyllis Fowler of Council Bluffs hadn’t danced in more than 12 years.
Between the busyness of life and Jim having two knee replacements in 2006, time seemed to slip by.
But in June, the couple traveled back in time when they danced at the first “Merrymakers Senior Prom” at the DC Center in Omaha.
“I honestly couldn’t remember how to dance,” Phyllis said.
However, by the time the dance ended both had found their groove.
On Sunday, just four months later, the two enjoyed another afternoon of dancing at the “Merrymakers Homecoming” at The Center.
Merrymakers, a nonprofit organization that offers social opportunities for senior citizens, sponsored the free event from 2 to 5 p.m. Merrymakers strives to improve the quality of life for seniors by encouraging active participation, increasing social interaction and sparking memories through professional entertainment.
Five Merrymaker performers, led by Johnny Ray Gomez, made up the band.
The Fowlers agreed much of their enjoyment came from the memories created by the music.
“With a band like that, many memories were brought back,” Jim said.
Around 230 seniors were in attendance and many came more than an hour and a half early to get a good seat. Twenty volunteers, between 18 and 27, served as dancing partners and companions.
“They danced with some people in wheelchairs and those who didn’t have a partner,” Phyllis said. “They were wonderful.”
The couple enjoyed dancing the polka, waltz and two-step but would like to learn the shuffle.
“They did the shuffle at my granddaughter’s wedding,” Jim said. “I’d like to be able to do that.”
Merrymakers will host another free “Senior” Prom at The Center on March 22. Visit www.merrymakers.org for more information.
Published Monday June 30, 2008
Second prom as good as first
BY KEVIN COLE — WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Dareld Keil felt “almost” like a high school senior again Sunday the moment he hit the dance floor at what he called his “second senior prom.”
Keil was among about 200 senior citizens and 60 volunteers dancing and reminiscing at the first “Merrymakers Senior Prom” at the DC Centre near 120th and West Maple Road.
Merrymakers, a nonprofit organization that offers social opportunities for senior citizens, sponsored the free event from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The Merrymakers dance band, led by Johnny Ray Gomez, supplied vintage music. The opening number, “Cab Driver,” popularized by the Mills Brothers in 1947, got people out of their seats immediately.
Jessica Prater, 20, was cutting a rug with Keil for several songs before the pair stopped to rest. Prater was one of 30 young people from the Bellevue Christian Center who volunteered to help out at the event.
Dressed in a full-length blue prom gown, Prater said it was her first prom.
“I was home-schooled, so I didn’t have a prom,” she said. “I didn’t even really know how to dance, so I am learning fast. It’s been great.”
Across the dance floor were Jim and Phyllis Fowler of Council Bluffs, who have been dancing for all 57 years of their marriage. They said they don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
The Fowlers received many compliments about their dance floor elegance, but Jim also stood out with his two-tone, black-and-white wingtip shoes.
“I’ve had more compliments on the shoes,” Jim Fowler said. “I guess people don’t see styles like this too much.”
Sitting with the Fowlers were friends and fellow Council Bluffs residents Charlotte Carlson and Jean Burns. The ladies didn’t want to reveal their ages but had their young dance partners huffing and puffing.
“I could not keep up with (Carlson) out there,” said Upile Bikoko, 23.
Carlson, who did say that she graduated from high school in 1951, said Sunday’s prom differed from her high school in one important way: “This prom has been more lively.”
The Merrymakers dance band appeared to have a lot to do with that, churning out tune after tune with hardly a break.
Gomez estimated that his own band, the Johnny Ray Gomez Revue, played for 50 to 100 proms across Iowa and Nebraska over the years.
“It’s just great to see so many smiling faces and rekindle old memories,” Gomez said. “I am surprised by how many people tell me that we played at their schools and towns.”
Julie Cerny of Papillion surprised Gomez with a photo of him from her 1961 prom at St. Ludger’s High School in Creighton, Neb.
Gomez autographed the pristine picture of him in a tuxedo with his accordion. He was only a teenager himself when he began playing professionally.
Paging through a scrapbook of prom pictures, Julie Cerny said the music of the Merrymakers was “perfect” for dancing with her husband, Gene.
“Everything they play is good,” she said. “The temperature in the room seems to be going up, but maybe that’s just because so many people are dancing and having such a good time.”
Performers make life ‘Merry’
From Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil
The Kanesville Apartments complex was filled with older-than-average party-goers. They were happy, talkative and ready to party. The music began pumping; and for the next hour, everyone sang, laughed and played kitchen instruments.
Thanks to The Merrymakers Association, seniors within the region have been entertained with professional performers for the past 22 years. Today, Merrymakers serves more than 33,000 seniors living in nursing homes, low-income senior living and long-term care.
“The shows are normally a one-person act,” said executive director Cindy Copich. “The entertainers are at a level of quality that most could not afford without help.”
Johnny Ray Gomez is an accordionist and entertainer who has been with Merrymakers Association for two years. Before coming on staff, Gomez was the entertainment manager for 10 years at Bluffs Run Casino and has recorded several albums.
“I sort of fell into this,” Gomez said. “Everyone that followed me is now in the nursing homes, so it made sense.”
Merrymakers’ desire to not only entertain their audience but also build a personal connection.
“I strive to touch their funny bone, their memory and their heart,” Gomez said. “We want to bring joy, laughter and humor.”
Renee Waugh, proud to be the oldest resident at the apartment complex at 90 and one-and-a-half-years “young,” enjoys the monthly performances.
“They are all wonderful,” Waugh said. “They are professional and very talented.”
There are 83 locations being served in the entire region, with 19 locations in southwest Iowa, including Council Bluffs, Glenwood, Logan, Missouri Valley and Woodbine.
“We continue to expand our services to the region,” Copich said.
Each location can be scheduled for performances once a month, with 12 performers on a rotation. Performers include guitarists, accordionists, singers, an impressionist, a piano/organ/keyboard player and a magician.
The Merrymakers Association recently received a $31,000 grant from the Iowa West Foundation, funding that will give the organization an opportunity to serve more people.
“The Iowa West Foundation really opened this area up for us to work,” Gomez said.
Copich believes, with the help from Merrymakers, the performances provided increase the overall level of activity for the seniors and build a sense of community to increase their health.
Waugh played the kazoo during some musical performances with Gomez.
“I like the polka Johnny plays,” Waugh said. “His music is good, and I have a Czech background.”
New Cassel honors Father Peter, Mulhall & Merrymakers
The New Cassel Foundation honored two individuals and one organization at the 8th Annual Spirit of Francis Celebration on Friday, October 5, 2007.
The dinner event, held in the Atrium and Waterfall Cafe at Physicians Mutual Insurance Company, recognized Father Val Peter, Executive Director Emeritus of Girls and Boys Town, with the Spirit of Francis Award. The award is given annually to an individual or organization who has advocated for the overall dignity and life experience of the aging person, through their unselfish commitment. Father Peter was also the first chaplain at New Cassel in 1973.
Sean Mulhall received the Lempka Leadership Award, presented to an individual who mirrors the art of voluntary leadership and spirit of giving to New Cassel, as demonstrated by Dr. Arnold and Agnes Lempka, longtime New Cassel supporters, now deceased.
The New Cassel Distinguished Community Service Award recognizes a person/organization who has advocated for the aging person in the greater Omaha and Council Bluffs area, leading by example to lift up those with needs among our aging population. Merrymakers Association of Omaha was presented this award for the many years of providing musical entertainment to retirement, assisted living and nursing home facilities throughout the community.
Father Peter was the keynote speaker, entertaining the 267 people in attendance. The event raised $43,000+ for the Foundation Charity Care Fund. Dick & Mary Jo Coffey and Gene & Connie Kudlacek were event chairs.
Merrymakers bring joy, fun to elderly
From the “Des Moines Register” August 16, 2007
Residents clapped, laughed and sang to some of their favorite oldies Thursday at Wesley Acres, 3520 Grand Ave. Katy Ann Parker of Omaha performed for the residents courtesy of Merrymakers, a nonprofit organization based in Omaha. Merrymakers, a 20-yearold organization that spread into the Des Moines area in March, pays for performances at retirement homes using donations from individuals and corporations.
Some of the songs performed included the Glenn Miller classics “In the Mood” and “Tuxedo Junction.”
Howard Eldrenkemp, a resident at Wesley Acres, said the performance was well done.
“She did encourage us to sing along, and I liked that part of it,” Eldrenkemp said. “She did a good job of reminiscing.”
He said he would have liked to hear more about the background of the songs and more about why they were written, but otherwise he thought it was good.
“It gets us all involved,” Eldrenkemp said. “Even if a resident is standoffish, it gets us involved:” Cindy Copich, director of Merrymakers, said the goal of providing performances to elderly people is to bring them joy.
“We try to stimulate memories and get them moving, clapping and
mostly smiling,” Copich said. She said they began providing performances in Des Moines because of contributions from MidAmerican Energy and Weiss Construction.
Copich said they plan to hire professional musicians to perform shows geared for senior citizens in the Des Moines area. For now musicians travel from Omaha.