A Party Waiting to Happen

For Dean Johnson, retirement means staying mentally and physically active. He starts off every weekday morning by swimming 10 laps at the “Y,” exercises two afternoons a week, leads a church service once a month, a bible study twice a week, and plays cards (“500”) on Monday afternoons with friends.

Volunteering takes up most of Dean’s time, though. As a senior companion for DARTS, he spends at least four hours a day, five days a week, working with 10 different seniors. He not only visits them, but drives them to the grocery store, the doctor, the library, the barber, or wherever else they need to go. Dean has driven Charles to several different locations where he is involved with civil war re-enactments. He also drives Emma to her exercise classes twice a week, where she and other 80-90-year-olds do exercises (sitting down) with beach balls and bar bells.

“Helping people is a two-way street,” says Dean. “I get much more than I give. Even if I’m just talking to someone, it gives me joy to take them back to their pleasant memories – all the way back.” Dean began volunteering at DARTS five years ago following some health issues. He started out just visiting one person, and it grew from there. He counts more than 30 seniors he has visited during those five years.  “DARTS has provided me with such a giving, warm environment, where I was put in contact with other people in the same frame of mind,” he says.

Spending time with those people also helps Dean. He admits to two bad habits – he loves to talk and he loves to sing. The talking comes easy, and he is especially good with the jokes, but the singing is more of a challenge. His mind is filled with the tunes to hundreds of songs, but his pleasant, rich voice hasn’t always been able to sing them without knowing the words. He was excited to find a “Hit Parade” songbook in the reference section at the library and now has most of those precious song lyrics from 1930-1990.  “I’m a party waiting for a place to happen. When I walk into the nursing home now and start singing, I can see all the happiness and joy in the residents’ faces. Some of them may not be able to speak or carry a tune, but their eyes are sparkling.”

Dean appreciates his current good health at the age of 83.  “You don’t know how long you will be healthy or have the ‘privilege’ of driving, so I know I’m blessed to be able to help others,” Dean adds. “I’ve been going on a fishing trip every summer for 30 years with former co-workers, and these days it includes more card-playing than fishing. I would love to be able to continue those trips and be able to get in and out of the boat….maybe live to be 100!”

By Patrice Peterson, Freelance Writer and DARTS Volunteer