By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Beth Wychor fell in love with Howard Lake years ago. “It’s like a slice of Heaven on Earth,” she said.
That’s why she decided to focus on Howard Lake’s senior citizens when taking a class, “Caring for the Whole Person,” at Concordia University in St. Paul.
Wychor is working on a master of arts degree in Christian outreach leadership.
The class was about immersing herself into an unfamiliar culture, and seeing what she could do to improve life for that group of people.
Last summer, she came to Howard Lake every Wednesday and Friday to have coffee with the groups that get together throughout Howard Lake.
Since then, she has come every Friday as much as she can.
“I came in thinking I’d be helping them. Instead, they are helping me learn and grow,” Wychor said. “It’s been a wonderful experience a blessing.”
To begin, Wychor talked to John Ringold at Howard Lake Drug, who told her a group of men meets at the drug store every Monday and Wednesday at 8 a.m. for coffee.
Wychor began joining the group of men. “I call them ‘my boys,’ and have never laughed so hard in my life,” she said about the time she spent with the group.
There are about eight to 12 regulars who are a part of the drug store coffee group.
Following coffee at the drug store, Wychor would go to Citizens Alliance Bank, where a group of women meet at about 9 a.m. for coffee and conversation.
“The women are always bringing homemade cookies they are fabulous bakers,” Wychor said.
At about 10 a.m., another group of men also gathers at the bank.
“These people thrive. They are so happy and so full of joy happy and lively,” Wychor said.
Each Friday, Wychor would also meet with the senior citizens club at the Howard Lake Community Room, where she learned to play 500.
Although Wychor started out just sitting and listening to the senior citizens as they visited over coffee, she soon found herself participating in the conversation.
As Wychor became more familiar with the senior citizens in Howard Lake, she found there is a great support system, and the senior citizens really take care of each other.
Her goal changed from wanting to help the senior citizens to bringing in more elements of fun and enjoyment to keep them entertained.
“The senior citizens were looking for more to do in Howard Lake more activities,” Wychor said.
Which is why Wychor, who is also the community relations coordinator for Seniors Wright at Home, applied for a Medica grant to purchase a Wii video game system and a television for the senior citizens club.
She was successful in receiving the grant, and Howard Lake senior citizens enjoyed their first Wii bowling April 6.
Using the Wii gaming system, bowling will take place the first Friday each month, and “Wheel of Fortune” will be played the third Friday of each month between 9:30 and 11 a.m.
Wychor would also like to invite middle and high school youth to be involved in Wii bowling and “Wheel of Fortune” during the summer.
There are also several other ideas Wychor has for opening up inter-generational communication in Howard Lake, such as creating a book or video in which the youth interview senior citizens.
“The most important thing I learned was the importance of being positive, joyful, full-of-life, and happy,” Wychor said of her experience working with the seniors in Howard Lake. “That’s what I notice here everybody is so joyful and happy.”