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Magical Muses

M E R R Y M A K E R S

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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WHEN MERRYMAKERS WAS FIRST CONCEIVED IN 1986, it touched the lives of the elderly in eight facilities with just 10 performances and only two entertainers. Flash forward 25 years. Today, Merrymakers visits 115 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, low rent apartment complexes, and senior centers. With 19 professional entertainers on its roster, it provides over 50,000 contact hours through 1300 performances annually. Merrymakers has been busy making merry.
 

The mission of Merrymakers is simple: to improve the quality of life for seniors by encouraging active participation, increasing social interaction, and sparking memories through professional entertainment.
 

The entertainers must meet high standards. Performers audition and are evaluated to ensure the highest quality of entertainment.
 

“Each entertainer has a unique niche musically,” says TRICIA COTTRELL, Executive Director. Many play the music their audience most respond to: what was popular when they were 17, she states. Think dramatic operatic voices, toe-tapping Rogers and Hammerstein numbers, and the Andrew Sisters singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” or Vera Lynn’s soulful “(There Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.” Songs made popular by Rat Pack members are also a big hit.
 

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and Perry Como hits make up the bulk of Joe “Mr. Memories” Taylor’s repertoire. He has been on Merrymaker’s roster since its inception.
 

JOE TAYLOR calls himself “an ambassador for the elderly.” He recounts how often blank, unanimated faces greet him when he first begins his performance. But soon his audience is smiling, singing along, and clapping. One performance in particular drew an unresponsive patient out her self-induced stupor. She refused to talk and make eye contact and, alarmingly, given up food. She came out of her shell during Taylor’s performance, “eating a full meal and drinking a malt, back to her old self,” he laughs.
 

He calls these musical miracles “God winks”: “God winks and a lot happens.”
 

“I stroll when I sing. I hold a lot of hands. It’s been a long time that some have had human contact, been a long time that someone has held their hand. They don’t want to let go,” Taylor says.
 

MUSIC’S MAGIC

Cottrell has witnessed music’s power repeatedly. “People who are non-verbal, stroke victims, can clearly sing because music resides in a different part of the brain than speech,” says Cottrell. After a World War II act finished a performance, a young woman approached Cottrell to say how grateful she was to Merrymakers. Her mother was in the facility’s memory care unit and was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She could not carry on a conversation and no longer recognized her daughter. But for that one hour, she sang all the songs, was animated, and interacted with her child. “You gave me my mom back for an hour,” she tearfully told Cottrell. That is what Cottrell calls a “mission moment.”
 

Merrymakers perform during the week when visitors are few. The performances are a welcomed relief for activity directors with tight budgets. “Many homes cannot afford to hire professional entertainment and welcome the assistance provided by Merrymakers,” DICK COFFEY, long time member of Merrymakers’ Board of Directors, attests.
 

Merrymakers is hosting its 25th Anniversary gala, a celebrity roast, on November 10 at the Century Link (formerly the Qwest) Center. John P. Nelson of Silverstone is the honoree. The evening includes a cocktail hour, dinner, and silent auction in which guests can bid on the chance to adopt a home to cover Merrymakers’ expenses for a month. Twothirds of the organization’s annual budget is raised in this one evening.
 

Merrymakers dramatically touches the lives of our seniors, often a forget group in our population. It is a local, grassroots organization that has expanded from its metro area boundaries to include western Nebraska and Iowa. But the possibility for growth is there. Says Coffey: “Clearly with the graying of America, ‘MM’ has the potential of being a nationwide endeavor.”
 

For more information, call 402-697-0205 or visit www.merrymakers.org.

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