It’s been said that music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. If this is true, one young man in Detroit Lakes is busy scrubbing the everyday off of senior citizens at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes.
Nick Bohannon, a 23-year-old singer and guitar player, spends his workday as a residential assistant at The Madison, helping to take care of the daily needs of seniors living there. But when he hangs up his scrubs at the end of the day, he will often pick up his guitar and spend his free time playing and singing to those same residents.
“I don’t pity them, but some of them do have families that live far away,” said Bohannon, who will go to different rooms and sing to people one-on-one.
“I just think, this is somebody’s mom or grandma or sister. What if it were mine?” he said. “What if it were my mom sitting there by herself because I couldn’t go and see her for a few weeks at a time?”
Bohannon, a Florida native who just moved to Detroit Lakes a year ago, has been playing guitar since he was 8 years old. He isn’t your run-of-the-mill musician, either. He plays with the kind of ease and sings with the kind of talent that is hard to find.
“I haven’t gotten any tomatoes thrown at me,” he joked.
Bohannon says he knows the residents he sings to not only love his music, but the company.
“They tell me a lot of stories,” he smiled. “Some really interesting ones, too.”
Taking care of the elderly isn’t what Bohannon is used to doing, though; up until he moved to Detroit Lakes and took this job, he has always worked in construction. But when he first did a shadow walk through the Ecumen buildings, he found a different side of himself.
“I just fell in love with it,” said Bohannon, who says he has become close to several of the residents he cares for.
“You have people here who need a little more extra care than the average person, and sometimes it’s as simple as sitting with them for 15 or 20 minutes on your off time,” he said. “You have the chance to make some of their lives just a little bit better, even if it’s for 15 minutes. I think that has a lasting effect.”
“You don’t often see young guys doing things like this, spending their own free time to sing to elderly,” said Sandy Lia, fund development director and activities coordinator for Ecumen. “I think it’s really amazing, and the residents just love it.”
Madison Resident Glen Birky is one of those residents. He says “it’s pretty neat” when Bohannon comes to his room. “I did the same thing when I was young,” he said of playing the guitar. “My great grandson has got my guitar now.”
That doesn’t stop Birky from a little impromptu jam session with Bohannon though, as the two sing “I’ll Fly Away.”
“A lot of the songs I know are folk-style acoustic, a lot of Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz, and some classical,” said Bohannon. “I do some Christian music, and I know a lot of them like that. I just have to learn some more oldies now.”
Bohannon says there have been times when it’s clear the residents he’s singing to not only feel it but are visibly emotional.
“There was one older lady at The Cottage who recently passed away the day before I was going back (to her room) for another session,” said Bohannon, who says she loved it when he played Christian music for her. “She would get a little teary-eyed. Her family told me after she passed away that she had been a choir member for 50 years.”
It’s obvious what Bohannon and his guitar bring to his eldest fans, but he says he gets something from it, too.
“I get the satisfaction of just having made someone a little happier,” he said.