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There are 88 keys on a standard piano. That’s nearly how old Charles McCreary is. At age 87, Chuck moved to Walker Place in the summer of 2019. The piano reference is important because Chuck is our resident ivory keys specialist; he started taking lessons when he was seven years old on the family’s piano his grandfather bought in 1920.

The piano in Walker Place is situated on the ground floor so the beautiful sounds float upwards and fill the lobby and dining area with music. Residents have grown accustomed to hearing Chuck play classics they know and love. It’s a little like being spoiled to enjoy dinner or a cup of coffee with a side of piano music; it’s not uncommon to glance up from the piano area to see people stopped to appreciate Chuck’s music as they move from one point to another.

I asked Chuck to tell me about his music and where it’s lead him in life, or vice versa. His hands still over the keys as he begins to tell me his story in words versus piano chords.

CHUCK

I think they really like it because they're the same age that I am. I'm 87  and I'm playing the songs I loved when I was 20 years old and they were 20 years old at the same time I was.

WE HAVE A GREAT THING IN COMMON;

they tell me that all the time.

Chuck McCreary

Common Ground & Influence

I told Chuck that in his short six months here, he’s already influencing the Walker community through his music, and I asked what that’s like. He said, “I think they really like it because they're the same age that I am. I'm 87 and I'm playing the songs I loved when I was 20 years old and they were 20 years old at the same time I was. We have a great thing in common; they tell me that all the time.” 

Speaking of influence, Chuck eagerly told me about those people in his life who helped him realize his passion for music and how to keep his practice at the center of his life. He said, “I've had three great music teachers in my life. My piano teacher, my orchestra teacher in high school, Dana Carnal, who taught me to play the bass fiddle and I can do that, too, if I want. And then another Fred Schrader, another music teacher in high school. I remember them. I think they had more influence on me than anything or anyone else.”

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So did Chuck follow the footsteps of his musical inspirations and teachers? Quite the contrary. He said, “And yet I had this idea I wanted to be a doctor and help people. So I did that. I call myself the poor man's Albert Schweitzer. He also was a great musician and then he went off to Africa. Schweitzer did. And he became a doctor and spent his life that way. Well, I kind of think I did some of that too. I did a lot of medical work in India, but I was also a musician and that's what I really enjoyed. Although I had a good time being a doctor too. It was fine.”

I Made It There And It Turned Out Very Well.

The Most Interesting Years

A career in medicine — that was fine? I asked him.

He laughed. “Well, yeah. I was a family practice doctor. I think the most interesting years of my life is when I spent five years doing medical work in India for the Lutheran Church. I've been living around the world for 87 years, and those five years of my life in India were the best. India is where the people love Americans, and we love them back, and we have the most wonderful relationship between those two countries I think of any two countries in this whole world.

I was doing medical work in the Malabar Region of India, which is a Muslim area of India. India is Hindu, and this was a group of several million Muslims who couldn't leave for Pakistan when they had this separation where Pakistan split off. And so there they were. And my church went there to convert them. But, even if that intention wasn't a good idea, they were good-hearted people and they immediately got involved in helping people get medical help, food, and supplies. The church started a clinic and hired some Indian doctors. And then in order to get some money, they had to have an American doctor. That’s just when I was ready.”

He continued, “I always had wanted to do some medical work overseas, ever since I was in high school. It was my goal. I made it there and it turned out very well. It was all about tuberculosis in those days. We got there in 1962 and we stayed until 1967, my wife and I, we had two little kids, ages one and two when we arrived, and we had two more kids who were born there. So we came home with four kids! The people of India, they like Americans. We got a real friend over there in that country. You never hear anything that they're trying to get after us, or they're mad at us, and we were treated royally while we were there. We worked hard. We would have clinics, it was mostly staving off tuberculosis. We got an X-Ray machine going and we treated a lot of TB.”

Chuck said, “Today I'm told that tuberculosis is relatively rare in India. Something happened in the environment. Tuberculosis is a contagious disease, but it's also dependent upon nutrition and living conditions and people being crowded together and all those things. A lot of that all changed at once, I think, for the good in India. Once you've lived in India for a while, that's who you are. You'll never get that out of your skin. I was planning to become an Indian citizen actually. I loved it so much there. An old Danish doctor who was working in India all his life said to me, well, don't decide to give up your American citizenship until you get back to America first because you're a little crazy, everybody's a little crazy when they get out of here, it's just so different and good. 

And that's what I did. And I realized with our four kids, I didn't want to commit them to a whole life long in India, just because I was having a good time. But for certain, it gets in your blood.”

There Goes the Neighborhood

As Chuck continued to tell me about his decision to move his family back to the U.S. post-India, it made me ask him about his recent move to Walker Place. How do you choose a new home after decades in another? It’s something all our residents and their families handle when the timing is right and I’m also curious about what factors and influence helped shape our residents’ journeys to us. Why Walker Place?

For Chuck, it was about proximity, familiarity, and an inside point of view. He explains, “I lived about five blocks to the east of here on Harriet Avenue, between 37th and 38th Street. I was there for about 38 years, so I've been in the neighborhood for a long time. I walked around this building, I knew this street, I know this neighborhood. When I’d go for a walk everyday, I'd walk around Walker Methodist and I thought, this is a pretty neat looking place just from walking past it, which I had been doing for several years before I finally came in one day.  And I did have a dear friend who was here who I visited.”

I asked Chuck if it’s starting to feel like home. 

He’s nodding to answer my question before I even finish asking it, telling me, “I kind of like the place. I like it a lot. I'll put it that way.” 

I ask him what about Walker Place he likes so much. 

Chuck thinks for a minute, seated at the piano bench. “Well, it's hard to say. I just know that people here are … good people. I knew this was a very welcoming place and it’s the people, the food service, the people who run the cafeteria and who wait on you, they just pamper us. And they have a regular special menu, their main meal every evening, but if you want something different, they'll do it. They'll get it or they'll change the stuff around for you. It's really nice.”

CHUCK

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Chuck McCreary

Making Friends Through Songs

Chuck continued, “I’ve made good friends here. None of us can remember all our names as well as we would like to, but we are very good friends and sometimes we can remember our names, too!” He laughs, shaking his head. “Friendship at my age, now that's something that just happens. I have been very happy here with people and they've been very nice to me. They listen to me play the piano and then they’ll say that it was my favorite song. Once a guy said to me after I played All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern (lyrics by Hammerstein). He came up to me and said, that's the greatest love song ever written. And I thought about it and I said, "I think you're right." So anyway, we really make friends through songs that we all loved when we were young and I'm bringing them back.”

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The Feeling of Being Home  

As Chuck plays another song on the piano, I think about how much changes as people transition to senior living, yet how much can absolutely stay the same. Rituals, hobbies, passions, traditions, all those lovely little details of life that make people who they are and continue to identify them. I shared this notion with him as he finished his song. I asked him, “Chuck, what would you tell other people who are maybe apprehensive about transitioning to senior living? How would you temper their concerns about the possibility of losing connections to pastimes, hobbies, passions they love?”

Again, he thought about the question before answering. 

“I'm 87 years old, so it was time for me to come over here. But, it's been a very great pleasure to be here.”

He pauses. I wait, certain he has more to say, though that sentence is pretty good I’ll admit.

Chuck continues, “Well, there's room to do a lot of things here. We go on a lot of trips. I was on a trip this morning. We went down to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and spent the morning there. We go around to different things. About once every two weeks we have a bus that takes us for rides to different places like that. The staff here is really knowledgeable about what's interesting in the culture of the Twin Cities and makes it accessible for people. All we have to do is just show up in a bus from Walker. And they really do well at that. And I'm just amazed at all the fun we have doing it. And we're all riding the bus then. And we don't act silly like little kids, but I think we feel that way in our heads anyway. We're very happy.”

I remark saying I’ve seen the fun Chuck and his clan have together, on outings and around the Walker Place community alike.

He adds, “Walker Methodist makes me feel like I'm home. When I go out with my kids, while I like to go to their houses and visit them, I'm somewhat at home there too, but I'm not leaving home when they bring me back here. This is my home. They, my son or one of my daughters, they drive me, and they come in with me and walk up to my room. I think it’s because they wish to see how things are and making sure I'm keeping it all neat and clean! But truly, I feel like I'm home when I get here and the people are just really sweet. When you need some help or something, they're right there. And I just feel very relaxed. I don't have anything to worry about.” 

Now that is just music to all of our ears.

Where Charles Lives