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Ann Arbor Miller, Published January 05 2009

In View: A Second Home

Walking the halls of Bethany Homes in Fargo is something Gene Krenelka has done a lot over the years.

His wife, Lorraine, came here in 2002 after a mild stroke hindered her speech and made walking difficult.

To help pass the time, Gene explored the senior living community with Lorraine, who was using a wheelchair and also dealing with Alzheimer’s.

“She couldn’t see me pushing her around, so I would talk to her,” he recalled.

“Pretty soon, I started singing some of the old hymns.”

As Lorraine’s physical condition improved, her mental abilities declined. She was now consumed with a need to walk.

Gene willingly became her walking partner and would often sing as the steps became miles.

Over the next five years and seven months, Gene made twice-daily trips from the couple’s home in north Fargo to the memory care unit where Lorraine resided.

After Lorraine died in late 2007, Gene reached out to Emily Gunderson, director of volunteer services. He felt a need to stay busy and remain connected with his second home.

Gunderson willingly put Gene to work and describes him as a “great, gentle man” who “does whatever needs doing.”

Gene spends about 24 hours each week volunteering at Bethany.

He runs a small coffee shop for residents and their guests on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

And, weekday mornings often find Gene, 80, pushing a maintenance cart from room to room and hallway to hallway as he touches up trim, doors and anything else that needs mending.

Occasionally, someone stops and asks Gene why he’s not singing.

“I don’t have anyone to sing to,” he usually replies. “Something’s missing.”