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Published September 26 2010

Eventide aims to grant the wishes of senior citizens

On one crisp day in September, Carroll Rogness was a celebrity.

A cream-and-black stretch limo awaited Rogness outside Eventide Senior Living Community in Moorhead. A TV reporter peppered him with questions about his trip to Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Minn. Rogness even had his own entourage, consisting of a couple of Eventide staffers and several longtime family friends.

That was just the beginning. Rogness spent the rest of the day as a VIP guest at the casino, where he played the slot machines, dined on a rib-eye steak sandwich and had the time of his 92-year-old life.

“I went in a big limousine you know,” Rogness says, when recounting his experience the next day. “It was really fun. They treated us like royalty.”

Rogness’ casino trip was one of the wishes granted recently through Eventide’s new Day Dream program. Similar to the Make-a-Wish charity, the Eventide program helps its elderly residents scratch items off their bucket lists.

But while Make-a-Wish requests tend to be big – allowing sick kids to go to Disneyworld or to meet Miley Cyrus – Day Dream desires are simple. They typically consist of the type of humble pleasures most of us take for granted.

One resident had her hair, makeup and nails done for her 62nd wedding anniversary. Another wanted to help knead and bake bread. Yet another asked for a restaurant burger and a chocolate shake.

“We had tears in our eyes when we heard about the lady on the third floor who wanted a hamburger,” says Mary Edmister, Eventide’s coordinator of volunteers and one of the administrators of the program. “We can go out and have a hamburger and a beer whenever we want. To think this is the wish she would have – it’s such a small thing. Why wouldn’t we want to do that? We sit here and think: Why didn’t we think of this before?”

Idea from the west

In fact, someone did think of it before.

The Day Dream program was originally launched at the Hi-Acres Manor Nursing Center in Jamestown, N.D., five years ago.

When Eventide purchased Hi-Acres in July, the Moorhead center liked their new sister facility’s wish-granting program so much that they decided to adopt it.

Every resident in the Eventide network can request one dream. Residents can submit their own wishes, or staff can submit requests for them.

The Day Dream coordinators try hard to grant every wish – within reason. The program operates solely on donated funds and time, and wishes may have to be modified according to factors like budget and health, Edmister says.

But in general, the residents’ requests have been affordable and easy to honor.

Take the case of 103-year-old Edna Jahnke. Eventide housekeeper Chris Glaser befriended Jahnke, a former country-school teacher who reads the newspaper daily, loves poetry and keeps her mind sharp with card games.

Glaser, who is 39, likes to sit and listen to her elderly friend as she talks about her life and her family.

After hearing of the Day Dream program, Glaser was determined to make one of Jahnke’s dreams come true. “I would do anything for her. I just love her to pieces,” Glaser says.

So she asked Jahnke if there was something she really wanted to do. Jahnke said she would love to spend more time in Eventide’s garden because it was in full bloom.

Glaser submitted the request. As a result, staff arranged a garden picnic for Jahnke and her family. The picnickers ate grilled burgers and, as per Jahnke’s special request, her favorite potato salad. Jahnke’s granddaughters recited some of her favorite poems, and a folk guitarist provided background music.

“She thought it was for her birthday. She was so excited. She still talks about it,” Glaser says, smiling.

“I was so surprised,” Jahnke adds, her blue eyes beaming. “On the farm, if you just made a sandwich and sat outside, that was a picnic.”

‘Having great fun with it’

The most elaborate dream to date has been Rogness’ casino adventure.

Rogness is a retired farmer whose wife, Evelyn, died 13 years ago. Their only son lives in New York.

Rogness enjoys going out to eat with friends, taking fishing trips with his longtime friend Paul Suomala and making occasional treks to a casino to play penny or nickel slots.

But that’s harder to do these days. He has stenosis, a narrowing of the spine, which means he gets around mainly by wheelchair.

So when Rogness filled out his request form for a casino trip, Eventide staff really wanted to make it happen.

Teresa Johnson, Eventide’s education coordinator, contacted the Mahnomen casino to see if staff there might consider donating a trip. She talked to Phyllis Skala, Shooting Star’s head of donations and sponsorships. Skala was the ideal person to grant Rogness’ wish.

“I just knew in my heart that this was the right thing,” Skala says. “I just like to see people getting something that they really want. It’s like a dream come true for him.”

Skala had the casino send its own limousine to pick up Rogness and his guests, who included Suomala and his wife, Dorothy. She arranged for them to receive gift bags, gaming coupons and complimentary meals

at the Whispering Winds restaurant. Once there, a couple of hosts wheeled Rogness wherever he wanted to go. They also gave him a $50 gift certificate in gaming (he came home with $30).

Rogness had such a good time that he talked about it for days afterward. “I think (the program) is a really good idea because for people who can’t get out much, it’s a really nice thing,” he says.

Apparently, the staff at Eventide agrees.

“We’ve got a whole list of (dreams) to do,” Edmister says. “We’re having great fun with it.”

How to help

The Day Dream program relies on donations to make its residents’ dreams come true. If you’d like to donate money or services, call Mary Edmister at (218) 291-2258.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525