Louis Stork tours the millitary museum at Camp Dodge with the children and grandchildren that have joined him on his Bucket List trip this June.
Louis Stork tours the millitary museum at Camp Dodge with the children and grandchildren that have joined him on his Bucket List trip this June.
Monday, July 30, 2012

It’s never too late for the best day of your life. Ask Jean Fisher.

Hers came after 89 years as she walked onto a bus for a trip down memory lane, visiting her small hometown of Paton. It felt like “Alice in Wonderland,” she said, to see her old home, church and roller-skating rink.

And Evelyn Kerkhoff, 89, found hers at a prison. She took a personal tour with the warden at the North Central Iowa Correctional Facility in Rockwell City, fulfilling her late husband’s lifelong wish to see the grounds. It intrigued him each time the couple drove past it on their way to Fort Dodge.

“He never got to see it, so that’s why I wanted that,” she said. “So I told him all about it when I got back here.”

Poof. Just like that, the Bucket List Program has breathed new life into St. Anthony’s Nursing Home, turning these long-wanted requests into reality for its residents. Since its launch in November, the program has granted seven wishes — or about one wish per month.

“We didn’t know how it was going to work or how we were going to do it, but we knew we wanted to do something so that each resident could benefit,” said Aura Lee Sibenaller, the nursing home’s activity director. “What better thing to do than say, ‘Is there something that you know of that you always wanted to do, see, have, and that we’re going to try and make it come true?’”

The program was Sibenaller’s idea, although she can’t pinpoint what sparked it.

The term “bucket list” stems from the phrase “to kick the bucket,” and commonly refers to a myriad of items one hopes to do before dying. The idea’s been popularized in pop culture — especially by the 2007 “The Bucket List” film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman — but Sibenaller rejects that usage for a more empowering one.

The program’s goal is to make each of the home’s 78 residents feel unique, she said. To show them that dreams don’t disappear with age.

And it doesn’t cost much to make them come true. The average Bucket List item runs about $50, said Sherry Greteman, the nursing home’s director. When family members, volunteers and local businesses chip in — as they often do — the cost recedes further.

When Edna Lawrence used her wish to dine at the Carrollton Centre with her daughter and son-in-law this December, the nursing home and restaurant split the tab.

And when Louis Stork, 91, wished to see his remaining U.S. Army records, Region 12 Council of Governments bused him to Camp Dodge in Johnston on a Saturday, even though the service doesn’t usually run on weekends.

It was the first time the WWII veteran returned to Camp Dodge since he was drafted in 1942.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for me to be able to go, for the organization here to offer me to see something I’ve always wanted to see,” Stork said. “It’s a wonderful program, and they have treated us so loyally.”

On his Camp Dodge visit, Stork toured a museum there, paged through a scrapbook of WWII pictures and received a signed copy of his discharge notice from the museum curator. His children drove from Chicago, Minneapolis and Omaha, and picnicked with him outside, right across from the barracks where Stork stayed in the nights before war.

Back at St. Anthony’s Nursing Home, the program is generating enthusiasm among residents and even their families, many of which are becoming actively involved in the planning process.

And it’s shedding nursing home stereotypes, one wish at a time.

“A lot of times people think … it’s the end, it’s gloomy, that it’s sad and just depressing … but that’s not the way it is here,” Sibenaller said. “It’s really upbeat, things going on all the time. … To be able to do this program, it shows you that you can still have dreams come true.”

For Evelyn Snyder, 95, that day will come in September when her wish to meet Daniel O’Donnell, her favorite musician, will be granted after the Irish singer performs in Des Moines.

“I can’t wait,” she said. “I’m all excited, like a teenager!”