BY STARRLA CRAY
WINSTED, MN Serious medical challenges haven’t stopped Ben Stuart from sharing his musical gifts.
In fact, since becoming a patient at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted three months ago, his captivated audience has grown.
“He has brought great joy in the short time he has been with us,” said Michele Muller, St. Mary’s therapeutic recreation manager.
Stuart arrived at St. Mary’s Dec. 11, after he had broken his ankle and needed physical therapy. He had planned to be back to his home in southern Minnesota by now, but his foot became infected in January and doctors amputated his leg a few inches below the knee.
After nine days at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, Stuart returned to St. Mary’s in Winsted for “round two” of therapy.
Rather than concentrate on his struggles, Stuart focuses on the good in his life.
“A week from Thursday I get fitted for a prosthetic,” he said with a smile.
Stuart is also grateful for the care he’s received at St. Mary’s.
“Therapy here is absolutely marvelous. They know how to push you without pushing you too far,” he said. “I’m glad to be here. The whole facility is good.”
Sharing music with others
When Stuart first got to St. Mary’s, his brother made sure Stuart had his guitar along. Stuart has been a full-time musician the past 30 years, and music is part of his everyday life.
Initially, he played guitar by himself in his room.
“Every now and then, there would be somebody standing outside the door listening,” he recalled.
Others in the facility began to take notice, and pretty soon, Stuart was playing and singing for residents Fridays during “happy hour.”
He plays at other times through the week, too. Sometimes he performs alongside other entertainers, such as Alice Nowak, who comes into St. Mary’s Sunday afternoons.
“It’s fun to see the residents join in,” Stuart said, adding that he plays “a little bit of everything,” including old country westerns, polka, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, religious songs, and more.
Big Ben and the Brians
Stuart’s musical skills stem from his mother, who was a professional guitar player and singer in the 1960s.
“I have two brothers and two sisters, and when we were little, she’d get the guitar out and play and sing,” Stuart recalled. “She’d teach us the harmonies.”
Stuart has played in several bands over the years, and is currently with a polka group called “Big Ben and the Brians.” (The “Brians” are concertina player Brian Klouse and drummer Brian Raichle.)
“We got together almost by accident,” Stuart said, explaining that he and the Brians had been filling in for other people, and ended up playing together one night. From there, they began getting additional requests to perform together.
“From the first note, everything fell into place,” he said, noting that the group is relaxed, upbeat, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. To purchase a CD from “Big Ben and the Brians,” call Stuart at (507) 383-9459.
For Stuart, playing for St. Mary’s residents has been highly rewarding, and he hopes the songs bring happiness to their day. Music has helped Stuart get through a few “daunting moments” in the past three months, as well.
“Everybody has some connection to music,” Stuart said. “It’s a universal language.”
Although Stuart misses his home in Glenville, 128 miles southeast of Winsted, he’s become close to many of the people at St. Mary’s. Leaving will be “bittersweet,” he admitted.
“I’ve made so many friends here,” Stuart said.
He added that he hopes his new friends will dust off their instruments and play from time to time, even if they haven’t done so in years. Music “is therapy, as well,” he noted.
As for physical therapy, Stuart is determined to keep making progress, and may be able to go home by Easter.
During his sessions, Stuart often reads a quote on the therapy center wall: “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude is how well you can do it.”
“It holds true,” he said. “It’s a very good motto to go by.”