Dennis appreciates seniors for their stories, jokes, smiles

After a successful four decades with American Family Insurance as a data center planner, Dennis Metcalf looked for something engaging to do in retirement. His daughter Laurie Rehm is the Administrator for Independent Living at Heritage Homes and told him the nonprofit senior living community in Watertown, Wis., could always use a hand

Dennis_6.jpgThat was five years ago. Now he picks her up partway through his 36-minute drive to Heritage Homes every Tuesday and Thursday so the two can carpool.

“It’s fun. I told Laurie I wish I would have done this 10 years ago,” said Dennis, who often stays late to help if he doesn’t ride with Laurie.

From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., he can be found around the building or driving the bus for residents on a field trip. Everyone knows he likes to talk.

“I like to joke with people,” said Dennis, who deadpans the staff “hasn’t told me not to come back yet.”

“Seeing somebody smile who hasn’t smiled all day, that one or two minutes makes it worth the whole nine hours,” Dennis said. “Working with the people is my favorite thing. It’s good to hear their stories.”

It was a story that drew him in. Dennis sat down with a resident when he started volunteering: “That gentleman just started telling stories, and that got me hooked.”

A lot of Dennis’ time is spent leading activities, but he’s known to deliver meals, lend a hand in maintenance and assist the housekeepers by cleaning floors.

“He is such a help to me and other staff in many ways. He honestly gives volunteering a whole new meaning,” said Activities Director Ashley Haines. “Not only does he help with activities, but he also spends time just talking to the residents and staff.”

Ashley describes Dennis as “incredible and modest” and “the best bingo caller ever.”

Despite the esteemed title, his people skills rival his bingo ability.

“When he first started in January 2011, Dennis said he wasn’t sure about spending time in Memory Care because he was unsure how to act, but since then he has completely changed is point of view and has become very close with all of the Memory Care residents,” Ashley said.

Dennis admits it can be hard. He’s always sad to lose residents he’s become close with, “but you look for that one thing that brightens each day. It kind of brings you closer with reality.”

“If I was closer, I’d probably be here five days a week,” Dennis said.

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