By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN For more than 12 years, Vonnie (Forcier) Rassat of Winsted has come to St. Mary’s Care Center Monday evenings to lead seniors in song.
With her, she brings others who enjoy spending time with St. Mary’s residents and like to sing favorite tunes as part of a sing-along group Vonnie calls “Singing Makes Me Happy.”
The seniors look forward to the musical visit and start arriving in the lounge area in plenty of time to await the group’s arrival.
Group members have changed over the years, but Vonnie’s husband, Tim, and Dianne Weibel have been committed to the program since the beginning.
Vonnie first discovered her love for the elderly when she played guitar and sang for Masses at St. Mary’s chapel when Fr. Martin Rath was chaplain.
“Working with the elderly is where my passion is,” Vonnie said. “That is what got me interested in becoming a nurse.”
In 1999, Vonnie became a nursing assistant at St. Mary’s and soon after, she approached St. Mary’s therapeutic manager, Michelle Muller, and asked if she could come in and sing with the seniors on her own time.
Muller suggested Monday evenings, and the time has worked for Vonnie ever since. Muller said she is pleased at how long the group has been entertaining the seniors, and calls Vonnie “wonderful.”
While working at St. Mary’s, Vonnie, who is a Howard Lake High School graduate, made the decision to go back to school, becoming first a licensed practical nurse, and later a registered nurse (RN).
“I am an old-young nurse who graduated in 2001 as an RN, and in 2003 I got my bachelor of science from Crown College,” Vonnie said.
Singing on Monday nights works out perfectly with Vonnie’s schedule because she currently works nights at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, a total of 64 hours every two weeks.
Since her early days at St. Mary’s, Vonnie’s passion for the elderly has never changed.
“We go there to entertain them (seniors), but we get back as much as they get from us, maybe even more,” Vonnie said.
Several members of the sing-along group know some of the St. Mary’s seniors, and it gives them the opportunity to say, “hi,” and share a music book with them to harmonize in song together.
The group “Singing Makes Me Happy” is scheduled for two separate sing-alongs each Monday evening at St. Mary’s. First, they spend time in the memory care unit on the lower level of St. Mary’s, and then, they have a sing-along in the upper level, in the lounge by the chapel.
Before the singing begins, Vonnie’s great niece, Courtnie Forcier, 7, hands out some rhythm instruments.
Courtnie, a first grader at Winsted Elementary, became the youngest member of the group after attending a sing-along at St. Mary’s about a year ago.
“I like to sing,” Courtnie gave as her reason for hanging out on Mondays.
Vonnie plans the songs to be sung, choosing music based on the seasons and special holidays of the year.
The group starts with three or four Christian tunes that are well-known to most seniors. Songs like “Come to the Water,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” and “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”
“I like it when they (seniors) take a musical instrument and get involved, and the ultimate is to see them sing. I just love that,” Vonnie said.
After the religious tunes have been sung, Tim does a reading from a daily devotional booklet called “Our Daily Bread,” which includes a short story with a Bible reading.
The sing-along ends with several old secular tunes. “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” and “Home on the Range” were two of the songs Vonnie chose last Monday.
“It says in the Bible we should use the time and talents God has given us,” Vonnie said. “I encourage others to do the same.”
George Schulenberg, who has been part of the sing-along group for about a year, ended a sing-along with a spontaneous, one-verse solo of “Goodnight Irene,” which was well received.
Other current members of the singing group are Denny Rehmann, Ann Schulenberg, and Arden and Betty Severson.